CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
MAJOR CHARACTERS: JD 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, TNN, the Hallmark Channel, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: July 2003 Challenge, offered by TwylaJane: Show me Mother Nature, at her best, her worst, the raw elements must figure into the storyline almost like a character unto itself. Whether it is heavy rain showers, twisters, flash floods, heat waves, hurricanes, mud slides, earthquakes, fish falls, plague of locust or even a blizzard the choice is yours.
SUMMARY: JD and Ezra are stuck out in some bad weather, and need to make a deal to find shelter
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: I borrowed the name of JD's horse from Eleanor T.; Ezra's comes from Kristin.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
DATE: July 13, 2003
By NotTasha...who enjoys a rainy day
JD Dunne ducked his head into his collar as they moved through the bad weather. The rain came down in sheets, in buckets, in troughs, and they were stuck out in it. It hissed and drummed around them. The water splashed and soaked them. They were wet – very wet. It was, altogether, a miserable day.
He and Ezra had left Clarkston earlier that day, with high clouds above them. The clouds lowered as the day went on, and the heavens had broken shortly before their planned stop for the evening, so the two had ridden through, looking for shelter. City boys, neither of them relished the idea of sleeping without cover.
They rode side by side, through the awful weather, gazing about for shelter – any kind of shelter. Not even an adequate tree appeared. Ezra sniffled and wiped his nose with a handkerchief. JD sniffled and used his sleeve.
Night was approaching when the shape of a farmhouse finally formed out of the gloom. JD turned to his companion and smiled. “Looks like we might get outta this crap, Ez,” he said, nodding to the building.
Ezra looked wretched, huddled in his jacket with water streaming from his Stetson. JD had the impression that he was looking at a dunked cat. “Lord, I do hope they are accommodatin’,” the southerner muttered.
“Heck, Ezra,” JD commented as he urged Toby to a quicker pace, splashing up more water. “How could they not let us in?”
Ezra and Chaucer caught up to him, and the gambler threw him a knowing glance.
They crossed a stream as they approached the house. JD glanced down at the rushing water as they traversed a little bridge, and hoped that the structure stayed put long enough for them to get to the other side. It held, and within a few moments, they had dismounted from their weary horses, and were standing on the porch of the two-story house. Ezra took a moment to finger-comb his wet hair into place, and JD did the same, wanting to look his best. Courteously holding his hat in one hand and fixing a smile into place, Ezra rapped lightly on the door. They waited, while someone shuffled about inside. A low voice grumbled and higher voices made excited sounds.
Finally, the door was thrown open and a grizzled man glared at them, rifle in hand. “What you want?” he demanded.
“Ezra Standish, at your service,” Ezra announced, extending a hand. “And this is my companion…”
“JD Dunne!” JD completed, eagerly stepping forward. He, too, offered his hand, but the man accepted neither of them.
“Brown,” the farmer returned.
“Ah, Farmer Brown,” Ezra returned, and then muttered under his breath, “how original.”
JD stepped back, unsettled by the man’s gruff demeanor. Ezra continued to smile. “Good sir,” he purred. “My companion and I were caught unaware by this deplorable weathah, and were wonderin’ if you might find it in your heart to offer us shelter against the rain.” His smile increased – demanding trust.
Farmer Brown glared back at him. “Ain’t got room.”
“You will hardly notice us,” Ezra assured him. “We take up very little space. Perhaps you have a clean piece of floor where a man might stretch out a bedroll? My companion would be happy with that. I’ll take a comfortable couch if one is available.”
The glare only increased. “Don’t want any trouble.”
“We won’t cause any trouble, sir,” JD spoke up, dripping onto the porch. “Just want to get out of the rain for a spell.”
Brown snorted. “Heard that b’fore. You people are like bad weather – you’re always comin’ when your least wanted.”
“By definition, sir, bad weather would hardly be welcome at any time,” Ezra commented blithely.
“Yup, you got that right,” the farmer returned.
“Look,” Ezra said his smile falling. “We’re be willin’ to make this imposition worth your while.”
Eyes flitted from Ezra’s ruby ring, to his tie-tack – graced with a blue stone. “Ten dollars,” Brown decided.
“Ten dollars?” Ezra sputtered and JD’s eyes grew wide at the extravagance. “For one night? I think not.”
“Ten dollars,” the farmer repeated.
“I’ve spent less on fine hotels,” Ezra scoffed.
“Well then,” the man said, starting to close the door. “Go find ‘em.”
“Sir! Please!” Ezra called, grabbing hold of the door and stilling the man’s action. “Perhaps we can come to an agreement. Ten dollars might be acceptable for my compatriot and I if it included certain things -- an acceptable bed, dinner, breakfast…”
“The barn,” Brown decided. “I cain’t have ya in here. And I ain’t got any food to spare fer ya.”
“Now see here!” Ezra barked, not letting go of his hold on the door. JD prepared himself for a fight.
Brown tightened his grip on the rifle, and JD backed off a bit. Ezra relinquished the door and stared back at Brown with hooded eyes. The farmer growled, “Last time a fella came through here, I let him stay in my house. Nothing but trouble came of that! Trouble that I ain’t about to have repeated!”
JD adjusted his perspective, seeing two young women standing in the hallway behind their father, and a girl craned her neck behind them, clutched against her mother. The four women watched with curious and cautious expressions. JD groaned. “It’ll be dry in the barn, Ezra,” he tried, realizing that they’d get no further into the house than this porch, not with such a valuable commodity within.
Ezra gave him a piercing look. “For that price? I’ll have nothing to do with it.”
The farmer shrugged. “Take it or leave it.”
Ezra turned, looking out into the rain, that hadn’t abated and the sky that had grown darker as the evening thickened. He let out a low breath. “For $5 a man, I’d expect better.”
The farmer’s head shot up. “That was $10 for each of you,” he stated. The women behind him shifted, looking anxious. Mrs. Brown made a sound that was little more than a peep.
Ezra met Brown’s hazel eyes with his keen green ones. The rain continued to fall around them. JD turned to Ezra. Their clothing was soaked through. They were half frozen already. The world was cold and uninviting. There was no place else to go.
“Ezra,” JD said softly, leaning closer to his companion. “Ez, I ain’t got no money. Spent the last of what I had in town.” His voice quavered, realizing that his lack of capital meant he’d have no say in this negotiation. His comfort for the night rested in the hands of the greedy cardsharp.
Ezra waited a minute longer, realizing that Brown would not back down. The farmer held all the cards. “You owe me,” Ezra told Dunne as he fished through his pocket for the money. Standish realized that he could haggle, he could wager, he could find a way to lower the charge, but he was tired. He was tired and wet and cold and ready to get out of the rain. He had no advantage in this situation. Lord, he wanted to be dry again!
Reaching into his pocket, Ezra removed two $10 bills, without even looking at them, and handed the money over to Brown.
“There’s a lantern on the peg near the door,” Brown told him, he glanced over his shoulder at his women who still watched in interest. “Get on back!” he shouted to them as he slammed the door shut.
The two remained on the door a moment longer, listening as the man grumbled discontentedly and moved farther into the home. “That went well,” Ezra finally muttered as he turned and headed back into the rain.
“Yup,” JD returned, smiling with the realization that they would be out of the bad weather soon. The two men returned to their horses and walked them across the darkening yard to the barn. They said nothing until they’d opened the doors and entered the building. Ezra’s gait was stiff, his shoulders tight.
“Twenty dollars! Twenty dollars!” Ezra fumed. “Do you know what we could have gotten in town for that amount?”
JD sighed, imagining extravagant suites and fine dinners. The dark barn hardly seemed a good exchange -- dry, but that was about it. Slapping himself mentally, JD came to a conclusion. “We should ‘ave told ‘im we were lawmen, Ezra,” he exclaimed. "Man would have trusted us then.”
“Somehow, Mr. Dunne, I doubt that. He seemed a rather untrusting sort.” Ezra glanced around dubiously, swatting a low hung spider-web. “I doubt the price would have changed.” He grimaced at the uncouth surroundings.
“Why does a soul do that, Ezra?” JD asked, finding the promised lantern. “Why would a man make us pay so much when we were in need?”
The gambler snorted. “He knew what the market would bear. There was a limited number of options and our need was great. It’s Economics, Mr. Dunne. I’m surprised he didn’t try for more. We… let me amend that… ‘I’ would have paid whatever he asked.”
“Still, you’d think a man would do the right thing. You’d think a guy would take care of his fellow man.”
“Not all men are as generous and good-hearted as you, my friend,” Ezra said with a sigh. Pressing a hand against his chest, he added, “The world is full of people like me.”
“Ah, Ez, you wouldn’t do a thing like that,” JD assured as he lit the lamp, illuminating the interior of the barn.
“Try me,” Ezra responded darkly, as he swung the doors shut. “I’m the proverbial ‘bad weather’ that the gentleman was talking about. And a disturbance such as me is rather cold-hearted and rarely kind.”
JD could do nothing but shake his head at that comment.
JD glanced around, taking in their sleeping quarters. Already, a milk-cow and a team of plow horses were in residence. A wagon was ensconced in one corner and from dark spaces all around them, the eyes of cautious cats glinted in the lamplight. The men took care of their horses first, knowing that it made no sense to put on dry clothing until this task was completed. Only after Toby and Chaucer were dried as much as possible, brushed and fed, did the men finally peel off their sodden clothing.
They quickly dressed, both coming to the conclusion that dry, clean clothing never felt better. Ezra and JD hung the sodden garments from hooks and over the pen walls throughout the area – hoping that something might dry during the night. There’d be no fire for them in the straw-strewn barn, so they could only hope for a miracle. A clowder of striped cats stood about, watching their endeavors. They didn’t seem especially shy, coming out and sniffing at novelties in their midst. JD patted the hind-end of one of the animals. It purred and arched its back in response.
Ezra seemed to ignore the cats, which didn’t deter the animals from trying to wind their way around his legs. JD hid a grin as the ‘disturbance’ lowered a hand from time to time to scratch the curious creatures between their ears, and sometimes murmur quietly to them.
The barn door opened suddenly and a girl timidly stepped inside, her hair damp from her short walk across the yard. She held a bucket and eyed the men cautiously.
“Good day, m’lady,” Ezra greeted.
“Hi,” JD added.
The girl, about ten years old, nodded shyly. “Hello,” she responded.
Ezra grinned all the wider, but kept his distance, staying by the horses. “Let me introduce myself…”
“I know who you are,” she stated. You’re Ezra Standish and that’s JD Dunne.”
“Ah yes, an intelligent and observant young woman,” Ezra replied.
She smiled shyly at the praise. “I’m Pansy. I’ve come to milk Betty.” She gestured to the cow.
“I’ll do it for ya,” JD offered, stepping toward the girl.
“Betty doesn’t like strangers much,” she said, drawing back.
"The same could be said of your father," Ezra commented as he brushed at his shirt. "He doesn't like strangers, does he?"
“Papa said I should be careful of you.”
“Heck, we won’t do nothin’ to harm ya,” JD consoled, quickly back-stepping to stand beside Ezra.
“If your Papa was so concerned, why didn’t he accompany you?” Ezra asked seriously.
The girl smiled. “He’s guarding Rose and Daisy,” she replied. “He wants to make sure that they don’t go bad like Iris.” She made her way to the cow and set up her stool to milk the bovine. Betty watched the two men unhappily as Pansy settled into place. The cats crowded around their mistress, meowing importunately.
Ezra leaned nonchalantly against one of the roof supports as the girl rested her head against the warm side of the cow and the felines kept up their harangue. JD continued to fuss with the wet clothes. A squirt-squirt sound started, telling them that Pansy started her task. She filled a bowl first and set it aside for the cats. Instantly their miaowing became muffled in milk. She patted the closest ones before returning to Betty.
“Have you lived here your whole life, my dear?” Ezra asked conversationally as the squirting recommenced.
“I was born in this house. Me and my sisters were all born here,” the girl stated. “My whole life is here.”
“It appears to be a lovely abode,” the gambler commented.
“It’s okay,” she returned, somewhat sadly. “It’s Papa’s pride and joy. Where you from?”
“Four Corners,” JD told her. “We’re lawmen there, so you can tell your daddy that we’re okay. No reason to be concerned about us.”
Ezra grinned at the young man’s insistence. “You mentioned your sister Iris. What, pray tell, became of her?” the gambler nonchalantly questioned.
Pansy let out a long sigh. “Iris was my favorite sister,” she said softly. “But she had to go away.”
“That’s a shame,” Ezra responded.
“Yeah,” JD agreed. “A darn shame. Why’d she have to go?”
“A drummer stayed with us in the fall. He sold kitchen goods and his name was Bartholomew.” Closing her eyes with the familiar task, Pansy continued talking. “He was real nice and told us lots of funny stories. He liked Iris best of all. He stayed at our house two days then went away. ‘Bout three months later, Daddy got real mad at Iris and she had to go away.”
“Oh,” JD said softly, glancing to the gambler who raised and lowered his shoulders.
The southerner understood, perhaps, why Brown chose to stay with the young women instead of accompanying this girl. Apparently, the farmer trusted them enough not harm a child – his fear concerning the purity of his elder daughters was another story. Still, it irked the gambler to know that the child went unaccompanied in order to protect the reputations of the women.
“It’s too bad she had to go,” JD stated. “I bet she’ll come back real soon. Maybe in a couple months.”
“She’s gone to have a baby,” Pansy said knowingly. “But she’s gonna have to give the baby away after it’s born.” The girl sighed and said softly, “Wish I could see the baby. Wish Iris could still be here. Mama and me would take care of the him if Iris couldn’t. We’d be real good at it.”
“I’m sure you would,” Ezra responded.
“We’re not suppose’ t’know where she’s gone, but I know. She writes to me sometimes. I pick up the letters at the store. It’s sort of a secret,” Pansy’s voice grew softer as she revealed this.
“Your secret is safe with us, Miss Pansy,” the gambler told her.
“I think she’s lonely,” the girl stated. “I think she’s sad.” Her voice a whisper, Pansy said, “I heard Mama and Papa talkin’. Papa doesn’t want to let Iris come home. He won’t send her any money. Mamma sends her egg money sometimes, but it don't amount to much. I don’t know what I’d do if she don’t come home. I don’t know what Iris will do. Mama said something bad might happen to her, but Papa don’t want to give her nothing. He says we don’t got enough to spare. Mama says, ‘it never rains, but it pours.’ Dunno for sure it that’s right ‘cause our luck ain’t been so bad lately. Crops ‘ave been good. Papa might buy some more land.”
The door do the barn creaked open, revealing Brown and his rifle. “Pansy!” he called. “You done yet?”
Pansy startled, glancing under the cow and called, “Yes, Papa!” She grabbed the filled bucket, gave Betty a pat, scattered the mustached cats, and scuttled past the two lawmen who hadn’t moved from their positions by the horses. She gave them a look as she hurried to her father – and the men said nothing, obeying her unspoken request.
Brown scowled as his youngest daughter hurried to him. He, too, said nothing as he closed the door – but his look also told an obvious tale.
“Well,” Ezra said, once Brown and his daughter were gone. “That was enlightening.”
“Yeah,” JD agreed, scratching the back of his neck. “It’s too bad that things like that have to happen. Poor girl, huh?”
“Not everything in this world is fair, my friend.” Ezra nodded, and changed the subject, asking , “Where do we sleep?” He gestured around the room where the cats were cleaning themselves in artistic poses. “The wagon might make a safe spot where we won’t be trodden.”
JD nodded to the hayloft above them. “Would be nice and soft up there,” he commented. “I figure that’d be the place to stay.”
“Agreed!” Ezra consented wisely. “You first,” he added and smiled widely at the young man.
With a nod, JD strode to the ladder and climbed to the loft. He waited for Ezra to hand him the lamp. “Looks fine up here, Ez,” the young man commented.
After hanging the lantern from a convenient peg, he climbed all the way into the loft and then turned to accept the gear that Ezra handed up to him. “Do you really think we need all our stuff up here?” JD asked, after he accepted both bedrolls and then all of their saddlebags. He grew alarmed when Ezra reached for a saddle next.
“Better safe than sorry, Mr. Dunne,” Ezra responded.
“Heck, he’s got a family and everythin’. I don’t think he’d take our stuff.”
“Mr. Dunne, need I remind you that I, too, have a family?” He cocked his head at the young sheriff above him. “Would you trust my mother with any of this?”
JD laughed. “She’s a nice lady, Ezra,” he replied.
With a sad smile, Ezra responded, “Ah yes, so she seems.” He ended up leaving the saddles below, but placed them on the dividing wall between Chaucer and Toby – where no one would be wise to wander. Finally, Ezra hauled himself into the loft where JD had already laid out their rolls, kept dry during the ride in oilcloth. They ate from their traveling stores, crawled into their blankets, and turned out the lamp.
“You were quite correct, Mr. Dunne,” Ezra said as he settled in and the rain continued to pound over their head. “The bed is remarkably soft.” He smiled and closed his eyes and was asleep in seconds.
It was something that always astonished Dunne, how Ezra could fall asleep almost instantly, no matter where they were. As much as he complained about uncomfortable beds, it never seemed to faze Ezra when it came to actually falling asleep. Only if something was troubling the gambler, would he remain awake once his head hit the pillow.
It took Dunne longer to find sleep. The drumming of the rain, just above their heads, refused to decrease. He listened to it, wondering at the actions of the farmer. Sure, he had every right to charge what he wanted to let them sleep here – but it didn’t mean he had to rob them. And it wasn’t right that he chased one of his daughters from his house. It didn’t seem to be the actions of a good Christian. Curling onto his side, JD pondered.
JD startled as something rustled nearby. It moved through the straw, quiet and curious. The barn cats were arriving. In the darkness, he could just barely make them out, sniffing at the gambler and watching the sheriff cautiously. JD must have dozed off because when he opened his eyes again, he could feel the weight of one of them curled up in the space his bended knees created, and another at his back. He figured that the girls must have been kind to the animals, to tame them so.
When he glanced at Ezra, he smiled. The gambler, asleep on his back, was dotted with the remainder of the animals. He slept beneath a furry and warm blanket.
A loud bang brought both men awake instantly in a flurry of fur. Ezra bolted upright, his Remington pointed toward the cause of the sudden noise, doing his best to avoid the flying claws. JD followed with a Colt in each hand and a disturbed tabby leaping over his shoulder. Early morning light flooded the barn as Brown stood in the doorway, shouting, “Help me! Goddamn it, help!” His face was white with panic, his voice high.
JD and Ezra exchanged glances as Brown turned and darted toward this house.
“What is it?” JD demanded. “What’s happened?” He was out of his bedroll and sliding down the ladder, but Brown was gone. Ezra followed, and they pulled on their still damp coats and boots, slapping on their moist hats and following Brown out into the weather. The rain, had slacked significantly from the evening deluge.
Brown, his wife and daughters were throwing buckets and shovelfuls of dirt -- settling rocks and lengths of wood across one side of the house. The stream had been running high at their arrival. It had overfilled its banks and spilled out, taking out the little bridge and now threatening to do the same to the house.
“We gotta make sandbags or something!” JD shouted, noting instantly that the family's activity was futile. Every bucket of dirt would be instantly swept away. “You got any feedbags or anything?” He started running back to the barn, when Ezra’s hand landed on his arm.
Brown trotted toward them, “Yeah, come on. I got some in m’barn!” he stated, only to be stopped by a gesture from Ezra.
“How much is it worth to you?” the gambler asked.
JD’s mouth dropped open, and Brown swiveled a furious look at the con man. “You’ve got to be kidding?” the farmer uttered.
“Hardly,” the gambler responded, watching the activity of the four women, who were carrying aprons full of rocks and throwing them hopefully against their home. The water was reaching the house now, tearing away their efforts. “It seems that help is in short supply and the price for our services will be whatever the market will bear.”
Brown’s face went red with fury, while JD watched his friend with wide eyes.
“Ten dollars… each… might be appropriate,” Ezra said with a wide grin as the rain fell around him.
“Ezra, no…” JD whispered loudly. “We can’t do that. It ain’t decent!”
“Twenty dollars for the assistance of myself and my compatriot to save your belongings.”
“I ain’t! I won’t!” JD declared, tearing away from Ezra’s grip. “Jeez, Ezra! Come one, Mr. Brown, Where are those bags?”
Dunne followed the farmer, finding a wanting number of bags in his store. JD grabbed what was available and ran past the gambler who had moved into the sheltered doorway of the barn. He smiled mildly at JD as the young sheriff glared and rushed past him to the water’s edge.
How could Ezra behave that way? JD wanted to know. They’d just been talking about how terrible the farmer had been – and then Ezra turned around and did exactly the same thing! Sure, turnaround was fair play, but there was a limit to what a man should do to another. Now was not the time to demand payment.
The four women were soaked and muddy, straining to protect their house. When the feedbags arrived, JD instructed them on how to fill them and place them around the house. They labored, using this new tactic as the water lapped at the foundation. The women shoveled, while Brown and Dunne lugged the bags into place, creating a barrier between the rushing water and the house.
Ezra stood at the barn and watched.
The rainfall was slowing, turning to a drizzle, but the river kept its pace. JD anxiously watched his barrier, smiling as the water diverted, and then groaning as the river found a way around the wall. With surprising speed, the rushing water shoved the sandbags aside as if they were nothing but a nuisance.
They scrambled, fighting to grab hold of the bags before they were washed way, flailing in the shallow but strong current. JD had just laid hands on one of the sodden bags, when a southern drawl sounded near them. “I offer my services for $20,” Ezra stated indifferently. He tipped his head, letting the collected rain dribble from the brim, watching the muddied, soaked people thrash about in the water.
Brown stared up in shock and desperation. “Done!” he shouted, tired of haggling, and frantic for any help he could get.
The slouched demeanor of the gambler changed instantly. “Mr. Dunne, out of that water! Hurry! We must empty the house immediately! It’s not to be saved.”
“What?” Brown exclaimed, staring at the water that continued to gouge its way at the earth around the house. “No! We gotta stop the water…”
“Mr. Brown,” Ezra stated, turning toward the house. “You will never stop this river from rising. Mother Nature will not be assuaged. She is a powerful force, indeed. Our only hope is to save what we can before the inevitable!”
Brown hesitated, but Dunne and the women saw the reasoning. It was time to give up on saving the house. JD was out of the water first. He turned to offer a hand to the ladies. Finally coming to the same conclusion, Brown darted to the front porch and was stopped by Standish before he entered the doorway. Ezra held out a hand. With a snap of the jaw, Brown dug into his pocket and pulled out the bills that Ezra had given him the night before. Tipping his hat, Ezra brushed past him and ran into the house.
In and out… the Browns and the lawmen removed everything that could be moved – furniture, books, boxes, a surprising amount of food, fixtures. They ran out with arms loaded – sprinting to the barn across the yard. Pansy was positioned in the loft to accept what could be handed up and out of the way.
They ran as the water continued its anticipated task, undermining the house. The building creaked and groaned as they hurried through it. Brown and Dunne had taken up the task of moving the bigger furniture. They carted out couches, beds, trunks and cabinets between them. Daisy worked her way through the kitchen, saving their stored goods, pots and dishware – cautiously emptying the root cellar along with all the shelves. Rose, the eldest of the remaining girls, worked on the rest of the lower floor – taking down pictures, draperies and small chairs and tables. Mrs. Brown and Ezra took on the smaller goods on the upper floor.
They ran, they stumbled, they collided – but quickly – quicker than Dunne thought possible – the house turned from a well-furnished farmhouse – to a nearly empty shell. The barn, on the other hand, began looking like a strangely appointed home – complete with beds, chairs, curtains, horses and a cow. The cats – frightened by all the activity -- sought refuge beneath the wagon.
The house creaked and groaned dangerously as they hurried through it. The shuddering increased with every moment as the water dug at the home, driving its way under, as the men and women hurried to save everything.
Gasping for breath, JD leaned against the doorframe to the barn, watching as Rose and Daisy carried out another load. Mrs. Brown helped them settle their cargo wherever they could find space. Brown wiped his brow. Pansy tried to arrange things in the loft, careful to keep the lawmen’s gear from getting buried. JD watched as Ezra ran in again, darting in through the doorway.
JD headed toward the Browns’ house again, but came to a dead stop as he saw a horrible sight. His eyes grew wide. He couldn’t breathe. The house – strong and tall – broke – as if it were nothing more than a dollhouse. The entire west side simply split away. It crashed, it screamed, it clattered and banged as one side of the home was torn asunder, pulled away by the water.
“No,” JD wheezed. “Ezra! Oh God, no!” His heart thudded in his throat as he watched in disbelief.
Behind him, Brown screamed, “My house! My house!”
Dunne took off, running toward the wreck -- even before it had totally fallen. “Ezra!” he shouted. “Oh God, Ezra!” The sight was too surreal to believe – one side of the house still stood – the other had been reduced to scattered wood and glass – and Ezra was nowhere. The river pulled at the wreckage, taking some of it along. JD looked – and still there was no sign of the gambler.
“Ezra!” JD shouted, glancing here and there – not knowing where to find his friend. “Ezra!” There was a smashed bit of the roof – and floating away on the flooded stream was part of the upper floor. “Ezra!” Where the hell was he?
Brown was babbling behind him, crying over his lost house, and Mrs. Brown had come to her husband’s side, speaking soothing words, and glancing consolingly at JD. Rose and Daisy joined JD in shouting for ‘Mr. Standish’ as Pansy found her way out of the loft to help.
Beside himself with fear, JD stopped when he reached the half-house, staring at it in horror, not wanting to consider what had happened to the gambler. Only the kitchen, the room above it, and the back porch remained. Turning toward the river, he cupped his hands around his mouth and screamed, “EZRA!”
“JD,” a soft voice finally called. “Mr. Dunne… there’s no need…” The familiar voice quavered slightly.
With a wide grin, JD spun toward the split house. There, standing at the raw opening, was the gambler, clasping what appeared to be a doll’s bed to his chest.
With a laugh, JD called gleefully, “Ezra! You’re okay!”
“So it would seem,” Ezra responded. He gave JD a lopsided grin, tightly clutching the wooden bed in an attempt to keep himself from shaking. “Although for a moment, I doubted that would be the result.”
“Damn lucky!” JD responded, smiling, too.
“Always,” Ezra responded, running the back of his hand over his brow to wipe away the cold sweat. Having the floor split apart beneath his feet was an experience the southerner never wanted to relive.
“You comin’ down from there?”
“Shortly.” Ezra gave JD a two-fingered salute and, instead of jumping down from the broken side of the house, he turned and walked to the opened back door. It was the more genteel way to leave a room, after all.
JD rounded the house to wait for him, puzzled because it took a moment longer than he might have expected for the gambler to emerge. Needs time to compose himself, JD decided.
When he did appear, the Brown girls rushed up to meet him, and Ezra handed the bed and its contents to Pansy. “I think this might be yours, my dear,” he said graciously.
The youngest girl let out a breath and nodded, looking happily at the contents. Shoved in around the doll and the bedding were the porcelain figures that had formally graced the high shelf in the room she had shared with her sisters. “Thank you, Mr. Standish,” she said softly.
“Not a problem,” Ezra said with a wave of his hand. He smiled at JD. “I think this was the last of it.”
Mrs. Brown stepped forward to thank the men. JD and Ezra accepted her tearful gratitude graciously. Mr. Brown sloshed into the river, trying to retrieve what bits he could, before it was all swept way.
Cautiously, Mrs. Brown entered the kitchen and nodded in satisfaction when she saw the their big iron stove was still in place. If this room were to remain untouched, at least she’d be still able to fix a meal for her family. She would be okay – she knew it. They would all be okay. Her family would be entire.
The rain, by this time, had stopped. The river would hopefully become a mere stream again. She nodded again, glancing toward the barn where all their possessions were now safely stored. She looked toward her three daughters and her husband, and was satisfied, wanting only one more thing – only one more precious thing – make that two.
The house was gone, and with it the bad memories. Maybe, she thought, just maybe, they’d start again with a new house, further from the creek. They could start again.
After a satisfying breakfast, and another change of clothing, the lawmen said their goodbyes and left the family. Brown would salvage what lumber he could from the wrecked house, buy what was needed, and then call in his neighbors to assist in rebuilding.
The air was crisp and clear as the clouds left them, replacing the gray clouds with blue sky. It would be a lovely day for a journey. JD and Ezra left the Browns behind and started for Four Corners.
JD rode alongside his friend, giving him a curious look. Finally, when Ezra turned toward him, JD asked, “Were you really gonna let that house fall to pieces without helping them?”
Ezra laughed. “Well, if the man had refused to pay for my services…” and he made an open handed gesture. “There would be nothing I could do.”
“Yeah, right,” JD said, not sounding totally convinced. “You knew that there was nothing to be done about saving the house, didn’t you?”
“It was inevitable. Rivers rise. They’d built far too close to it.”
“So did you figure just how much time we had before we had to start emptying the place out?”
Ezra chortled. “Well, I had made an unfortunate miscalculation that nearly ended my life. Other than that, I did my best to estimate the time required.”
JD shook his head. “Well, I guess Mr. Brown deserved to pay for the help, after what he done to us.”
“Which reminds me, Mr. Dunne. Ezra smiled, revealing his gold tooth. “You still owe me $10.”
JD scowled at the gambler and shook his head, figuring that he should have realized that was coming. “Still,” Dunne continued, “it seems that he would need that money now more than ever.”
Ezra shrugged and patted his pocket. “There are others that could make better use of it.”
Pansy greedily pawed through the contents of the doll bed, picking up each porcelain figure in turn and looking upon them with fondness. They belonged to her oldest sister. Iris had tearfully asked her to take care of them before she was sent away, and Pansy had guarded them jealously.
During the crisis, while she sat in the hayloft, accepting each load handed up to her, she had searched for these little figures. Iris had carefully collected the gewgaws: the fat kitty, the precious poodle, the clever horse, the pretty maiden and her suitor. But in spite of all the things that were rescued, nobody brought them from the house. She’d tried not to cry for failing her sister at the simple task of protecting the dear objects.
Now, she held those precious items in her lap. She let out a breath when she picked up her favorite one, the little red fox. “Oh dear,” she murmured softly when she noted that the figure had lost its tail. After a quick search, she found it tucked in under the doll. Musta broken off when the house fell apart, she figured. Musta got broke when Mr. Standish had to run for his life. With a wisdom greater than her years, she decided that the damaged fox would be okay. The broken tail would remain as proof to the adventure they had all been through. It would be okay.
As long as these little delicate-but-damaged things remained, Pansy had hope that her beloved sister would come home.
After examining each of the fragile pieces, she picked up her dolly and held it. She was too old for such trifles, but recently she had returned to playing with it – pretending it was Iris’ baby – wondering if she would be able to see her little niece or nephew, but fearing it would never happen – fearing that she’d never see her forsaken sister again. She kissed its sweet face.
As she cradled the doll, a little packet fell from the pinafore.
Curious, she picked it up and unfolded the paper enough to see the note. “Dear Pansy,” it read in a script that seemed hastily written. “Perhaps this might help you and your sister. I hope that you are someday reunited.” When she unfolded it further – a number of greenbacks fell from the paper – two $10’s, and then two more.
She bit her lip, collecting up the money before anyone else might see it. Looking in the direction the men had disappeared, she knew that even bad weather might bring good.
She slid the money into her pocket and started planning.
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