RATING: G - not
CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Josiah and Ezra
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: March 2003 Challenge, offered by Beth: The Poem Challenge. Pick a long one, short one, old one, or a new one. Don't include the poem in your story…this isn't about that. Do, however, post the poem.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This story is based on the poem, "Pied Beauty" by Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). It will be included at the end of the story. Kristin brought us the name for Ezra's horse.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments are greatly appreciated.
DATE: March 12, 2003
By NotTasha...not pied... but, damn, I'm beautiful
"And the poor fool didn't know quite what to do," Ezra continued his tale. "Once I'd managed to finagle half his life savings out of his hands, Mr. Cunningham couldn't decide whether to erupt in an apoplectic fit, thank me for allowing him to keep half, or to burst into tears." Ezra smiled broadly as he leaned back in his chair. His sapphire-blue, swallowtail jacket fell open to reveal his vest, stippled in silver to resemble the scales on a trout. "So, he simply stood there with his mouth agape while I safely made my exit. I don't think it fully dawned on him that I was the sole perpetrator until days later, and by that time I was safely away."
Josiah drew his mouth to a tight line as he stared at the gambler, who seemed thoroughly pleased with himself.
The elegant southerner picked another nut from the bowl beside him and effortlessly cracked it open, then brushed at a bit of dust on his knee, oblivious to the dark look he drew from the preacher. “And that was how Mr. Cunningham learned a valuable lesson concerning the cotton gin,” Ezra explained, popping the nutmeat into his mouth, then dropped the empty shell to the boardwalk beneath him.
"Ezra," Sanchez growled. "You can't honestly find joy in depriving a man of so much."
Standish shrugged, his expression still jovial. "One man's deprivation is another's gain, and I gained handsomely in that exploit. I do find joy in that. Besides, he wouldn’t have lost so much if he hadn’t thought he was cheating me.” He raised an eyebrow at Josiah, as if looking for his approval. Finding none, he smirked and cracked another nut.
“And did you spend any of your winnings on orphans and widows?” Josiah asked, as if he expected some good to come from the story.
Ezra laughed aloud. "Oh, Josiah, you always have the power to amuse me. Charity?" He continued speaking once he was able to stifle his chuckling, "Of course the money is long gone, doled out years ago." He ate another nut and made an empty-handed gesture. "A pity, really, but it was well spent on a glorious week of luxury which I still recall fondly to this day." After a contemplative pause, he added, "You know, it may have benefited a grown orphan or a young widow. I didn’t ask her any particulars."
With a woeful shake of his head, Josiah rumbled out, "It just isn't right, Ezra. You can't live your life like that: preying on human weakness; exploiting your fellow men for your own pleasure; living like a parasite off the works of others."
"Oh," Ezra returned. "But I do live my life in that manner. My pleasure is always foremost in my mind. Why work when there are others who’ll do it for me?"
Sighing, Josiah returned, "I pray for your soul."
The grin only increased. "Well, it's good that someone does, for I fear it otherwise goes unattended." Ezra’s smile was adazzle with gold as he turned his head to gaze out across the street.
Glowering at the gambler, Josiah considered getting 'Old Testament' on him. Standish certainly needed a refresher course in the Ten Commandments. Lord! The soul of that man needed saving! He was destined for the fires of perdition of he didn’t realize his fatal path.
The conman seemed unconcerned about the ugly look he was receiving and gazed happily across the street.
Josiah considered souls. Sometimes, he pictured them as a glow, a luminescence that surrounded men and women. Some souls appeared dim, others were so intense that they were nearly blinding. As he gazed at the southerner, he tried to imagine the soul contained within that contrary man. He knew the gamester had kindness and decency in him -- but such traits were matted in with other things. The good and the bad, the sweet and sour, all mixed up and impossible to separate. Fickle and freckled, his soul would be difficult to define. Ezra's aura would glow intermittently, spotted, marred and imperfect as a rag ill-used and perhaps beyond reclamation.
The thought made the preacher pause, and contemplate what could be done. Any time Josiah tried to steer Standish on the proper path, Ezra ended up slipping through his grip and taking an exact opposite tack -- as if determined to counter any of the preacher's plans -- as if this were nothing more than a game to him.
The Almighty didn't play games. In the end, things were white or they were black. Perhaps, even gray was acceptable -- but so many odd shades existed in that southerner that Josiah wasn't sure what would become of him when the grain was separated from the chaff.
"Ah, Mr. Standish," a voice spoke nearby, snapping Josiah out of his reverie.
"Mr. Gage, how good to see you," Ezra said with a smile and a nod. He pulled a notebook from his pocket and flipped it open as he sat forward. "I suppose you have my $100?"
Douglas Gage furrowed his brow, and bowed his head. "I won't be able to make good on my marker until I get my stock to market," he said quickly. “Thought I could get a loan from the bank but…” he cut off his sentence with an angry shrug.
“Ah yes, I’m well aware of our local bank’s tendency to award cash loans only to those who already have a wealth of it.” Ezra cocked his head. “Now, you have been able to gather the amount from other sources, haven’t you?”
Gage answered, “No. No, I haven’t. Don’t know anyone in town. My men don’t have that sort of money. Won’t have that sort of cash until we return from market.”
Ezra gave him a withering look. "But you assured me that the debt would be paid before noon today." He pulled his pocket watch from his dappled-vest and tsked. "And it is well into the morning." He quirked an eyebrow and stated, "I take it that you didn't plan on making good on your bet at all?"
"Now, see here!" Gage stated. "I thought I had a winning hand last night, it's true. You bested me. Whether you cheated or not, I can't say. I just won't be able to pay you today. You'll have to wait."
"You said, you have some animals?" Ezra said leadingly.
With a nod, Gage agreed. "I'm bringing some horses to market. Got 'em in the corral out back of the livery. That should be reason enough to believe me."
"Ezra," Josiah commented. "This seems reasonable. He'll pay you on his return."
Ezra looked contemplative. "Plans change, as I am well aware. And there are so many trails that can be traveled. It seems quite possible that you might find another route on your way home. He's not from around here, as he's already stated."
“He seems like a fair man,” Josiah put in. “If he says he’ll be back this way, I’m thinkin’ he will.”
With a sour face, Ezra stated, “If I were in his place, I wouldn’t.”
"Dang it!" Gage exclaimed. "You'll get what's due you."
Ezra smiled at that comment. "Then let's take care of this now." He stood and brushed at his pants. "I'll simply take possession of one of your animals. That should be enough to balance our debt, don't you think?"
Josiah almost spoke out, but he glanced at Gage and saw a speculative look on the man’s face. Douglas nodded. “That’d do,” the rancher decided. “Shake on it?”
Ezra inclined his head. “I get my choice and the debt will be erased.”
They shook hands and Gage looked rather pleased. "Shall we go?" the southerner suggested, raising an arm toward the corral.
Josiah followed the two men on their trek to the large enclosure near the livery. Gage's men were getting ready to head out again, saddling their horses. Inside the corral, a group of young horses frisked about. "This is them," Gage stated. "You can have your pick."
There was nothing particularly outstanding about the animals. Gage looked anxious for a moment, then a relieved expression crossed his face as he examined the herd. They were mostly sorrels, with blocky heads and gawky movements. Not one of them seemed to be up to the gambler’s usual standards. Josiah sighed, realizing that Ezra's insistence on being paid immediately had probably cost him some money.
"Where's the grey?" Ezra drawled after glancing at the corral.
Gage took a step back. "There's no grey here."
"Perhaps not here, but certainly it's part of your herd," Ezra responded. "I saw the beast when you rode in yesterday afternoon. And without a doubt, he wasn't a mount for any of your men. Perhaps you placed him in a safer location? Very wise, Mr. Gage. Everyone knows that miscreants thrive in these environs."
Ezra smiled pleasantly and stated, "A deal's a deal, Mr. Gage. Mr. Sanchez will attest to your agreement with me." He gestured to the preacher. "I was told that I would have the pick of your stock in exchange for your marker."
Josiah, with attention upon him, nodded. "It's what you agreed to," he stated.
Gage scowled at the two lawmen, and then nodded to one of his men, saying sullenly, "Jake, get Pied Beauty," he stated.
Jake looked surprised and a little annoyed, but did as he was told. He disappeared into the livery and Ezra took a moment to smile at Josiah, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary.
“What are you after, Ezra?” Josiah whispered.
Ezra smiled. “After? I’m simply getting the best settlement possible.”
Jake emerged a few minutes later, leading a beautiful dapple-grey. Sanchez drew in his breath when he saw the fine movements, the energetic toss of its head. Its coat was like silk, dotted and splotched in an unusual and pleasing manner, like a couple-colored sky, rolling with rain clouds. It moved with grace and ease, following its lead with an amiable expression and a pleasant demeanor. Bright eyes gazed out at all around it – obvious cleverness radiated from the creature. It was altogether a lovely little pony.
Gage jammed his hands into his pockets as the pony pranced. It was beautifully portioned, looking like a scaled-down horse. Doug Gage gazed at it with despair, realizing what he was losing. “I figure some spoiled brat will use him for polo, or chasin’ down foxes or something. Bet it would win a ribbon in a competition. Bet it would be the star of any horse show.” Glumly, Gage kicked at the dirt. “What do you say, I take it to market and sell it for what I can get? I'm thinking I can get $200. We split the difference on the profit."
"Well over $200, I’d say." Ezra reached for the little horse's reins and pulled it closer. It allowed Ezra to check its teeth without balking. It craned its little neck when Standish started scratching it behind its ears and it shuddered luxuriously at the kindness. With a smile, Ezra continued, "At the right auction, this lovely creation could fetch close to $300."
Gage spat. "Not anywhere near here!" he declared.
"Exactly," Standish responded. "Which is why I plan to bring it to the right location." He pulled the handwritten I.O.U from his pocket and extended it to the rancher.
Gage took it, unhappily. “Robbery,” he muttered.
Ezra didn’t seem to hear him. "I enjoyed a fine evening, Mr. Gage. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll see to housing this fine little grey until I can make use of him. Thank you, Mr. Sanchez for your assistance." He tipped his hat to Josiah, and then to Gage. "Good day, sir." And with that, Standish led the pony back to the livery.
Josiah watched him depart while Gage and his men looked annoyed at losing their prize. "There goes our bonus money," Jake said with a surly tone.
"Hang it!" Doug growled. "Let's get goin' and see if we can make any money off what's left." He turned to Josiah. "Figured that pony would pay for some new equipment 'round the ranch. Now we gotta make due with what we got." With a shake of his head, and a chagrinned expression for the ranchers, Josiah headed to his church to say some prayers.
Ezra would require one or two, he figured. His spotted soul definitely needed what help it could get.
For over two weeks Pied Beauty stayed in town. It became common to see Ezra heading out on patrol, astride Chaucer, with the dappled pony running swiftly to keep up. Once out of sight of town, Standish worked with the animal, teaching Beauty simple tricks for apples and peppermints -- to kneel on command, to fetch dropped objects. Ezra was always slow and patient with his training, taking ample time in his work.
Vin had observed him on more than one occasion without mentioning it to the others. Josiah had caught him at it as well, and approached Ezra on the matter. Standish was not alarmed at the questions and simply explained that he was improving the beast for sale. Nathan, when he heard, claimed that Standish had found an original way to avoid work, for he seemed to spend every spare moment with the animal's training.
Ezra scoffed in response, and talked about the rich price the little steed would earn.
When the new pony-sized saddle and bridle arrived, the gambler explained that he was just sweetening the deal with the extravagant equipment. “The proper packaging is essential,” he had commented. It was a beautiful saddle, stamped with designs resembling finches wings and ribbon-like trim.
Every child in town took turns on the gentle pony, and Ezra was happy to give Beauty the saddle experience. The creature seemed to live off attention and was always well behaved, especially around the children.
Gage never did find his way back through the town, which Ezra used as proof that his scheme was the correct path to follow. Josiah had replied that Gage was too damn embarrassed by the situation to show his face. Ezra agreed that this was highly possible.
Then, Beauty was gone. Ezra took the pony with him on a trip, and returned three days later without him. The children of the town cried when Beauty didn't return, but Ezra shrugged, saying that a deal had been made and he would not back out of it. He consoled the children with rides on Chaucer – but it wasn’t the same. There was something special about the child-sized equine.
But time passed, and time heals nearly everything.
Life went on as it always had. Josiah still worried about the gambler and his ways that ran counter to the Bible’s teachings. The gambler greedily deprived people of their well-earned cash, lied shamelessly, and skirted the moral path. And yet, Ezra seemed blessed by some special luck or grace that kept him from disaster.
God must love something about blemished things, Josiah thought as he observed the gambler.
Three months had passed, and Josiah took a trip to Rio Rojo -- an out of the way town. He had no real reason to travel there, except that he wanted to check up on one poor child who lived in that area.
Just outside of the quiet town, stood the Hemmer home. He knew about their sad story, and often said a prayer for the family. They needed all the help they could get.
After crossing a fallow field, he made his way closer to their home, over the soil, plotted and plowed but not yet seeded. He slowed when Mr. Hemmer appeared near the barn. He and his sons were evidently working on the block and tackle used to reach the hayloft. Hemmer, upon seeing the approaching preacher, waved him to a stop. Sanchez dismounted and waited for the man, who'd set down his gear and disappeared into the house. The farmer reemerged a moment later.
Hemmer was a man who'd grown old before his time. He wasn’t a particularly successful farmer, and the little place he kept would never amount to much. It was dry, hard work with few comforts. Still, as he walked toward the preacher, Josiah detected a certain lightness in his step.
"Good Afternoon, Mike," Josiah called as the man drew close.
"Howdy, Josiah," Mike responded with a congenial smile. "You headed to Four Corners?"
Josiah nodded. "I'll be returning there."
"Could ya bring somethin' there for me?" Hemmer displayed an envelope. "Want to get it there right away."
"Won't be a problem," Josiah responded and accepted the note from Hemmer. With a glance, he noticed that it was addressed to Ezra Standish.
Mike noted the confused look on Josiah's face and explained, "Personal business."
"Oh," Josiah said with a nod and pocketed the letter, wanting to know more, but respecting the man's curt reply. Lord, what had that gambler gotten mixed up into now? If the Hemmer family figured in the conman's plans, Josiah would have to do something to put a stop to it. How did Ezra find out about this family anyway? Rio Rojo was far from the gambler's usual scope of travel.
Ah yes, Josiah thought as he recalled that Ezra had been sent to this town several months ago to retrieve some information. Had the conniving man set his sights on this poor family on that trip?
Stilling his thoughts, Josiah asked, "How's everyone, Mike? How's Melissa doing?"
Melissa was Mike's only daughter, the apple of his eye. She was a sweet child who'd suffered from a debilitating fever when she was seven and hadn't grown since then. Now twelve, she'd become an invalid to her failing muscles. She couldn’t walk without help and was always as weak as a kitten. Her skin had been left blotched and scarred, making her forever shy and withdrawn.
Josiah smiled sadly at the thought of the poor wasted child.
"Doin' good," Mike responded happily. "Ever since she got Freckles, she's really perked up." Mike nodded toward the barn, and Josiah caught sight of Mike's girl on that familiar dappled pony.
She was smiling and laughing with her brothers as the clever little horse pranced about. Josiah found that he was smiling, too, as he watched the children -- they were doing their chores -- the boys on their legs and the girl on her pony. She giggled as she kicked her pony into a trot and her brothers chased after in an impromptu game of tag. They narrowly avoided a brindle cow as they cavorted around in the area behind the barn.
The cow lowed and moved cautiously out of the way.
"She'd stopped smiling," Mike said wistfully, "And now, it's like she's found a reason to live again. We've been visitin' at the neighbor's places, going to town, and she actually wanted to come along. Not forever hidin' her face and cryin'." He shook his head. "That pony sure gives her a reason to smile. She can get around now. She ain't just tied to her chair -- needing someone to push her along. Everyone wants to see Freckles and she just loves to talk about him. He’s a miracle, really.”
Josiah had no response. He watched the little girl, who'd been so withdrawn. She screamed with glee as she and her pony outmaneuvered her brothers. The doting boys laughed as Freckles dodged.
"Seems queer, don't it?" the farmer continued. "Freckles is just the nicest little pony and yet no one wanted him. Guess he was too puny. Mr. Standish finally sold him to me for $15. Said he needed to pay off the livery expenses so that he wouldn't lose any money. I just got it saved up now and want to make sure he gets what I owe." He nodded toward the envelope in Josiah's pocket. "I'm a man of my word and aim to pay my debts." Hemmer smiled, proud of this accomplishment. "Strange, that he couldn’t find a buyer for Freckles, ain't it? I figure Mr. Standish just wasn't asking the right people."
"I don't know," Josiah responded. "Seems maybe he knew just who to ask."
As Josiah rode home, he contemplated spotted things -- dapple-grey ponies, little crippled girls and hopelessly imperfect gamblers.
Sanchez laughed, wondering what Standish would say when he handed over the envelope. He figured Ezra would just shove it in his pocket and try to slip past any questions pressed to him -- I'll never know the real story, Josiah figured. My, but he enjoys being contrary. Seems to try to make me cringe at his stories. Seems to want me to believe the worst of him. Why? Can’t figure it out, myself.
Can never quite understand that gambler with the spotted soul.
It’s a good thing that our Lord loves imperfections, the preacher thought as he continued toward home. Under his breath he murmured, "Glory be to God for dappled things."
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pierced – fold, fallow, and plow;
And all trades; their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
--Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
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