The Better Part of Valor

By JudyL

Epilogue to Chinatown Character Focus: Ezra and Nathan Summary - Nathan and Ezra discuss what happened in Chinatown Length: 1018 words

Nathan watched Ezra slowly withdraw behind his poker face as he read the letter. By the time the gambler finished reading and had carefully folded the paper and replaced it in its envelope, one would never know there was anything amiss. "Bad news?" Nathan asked, taking a sip of his coffee and trying to sound nonchalant. Nothing shut Ezra up faster than being too pushy. At least, he was beginning to realize that much about the complex man he considered a friend. Ezra gave him a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "On the contrary, good news for once." He dropped his gaze to what was left of his breakfast, but only poked at it with his fork. "Gonna share?" Nathan asked. Ezra shrugged. "You may recall Miss Li Pong?" Nathan nodded, surprised. He really hadn't given the girl much thought after that trouble with the railroad was cleared up. "You keepin' in touch? She still with the railroad company?" he asked with a frown. "Yes, we have been corresponding," Ezra replied. "And no, she is in San Francisco with her family." Nathan nodded. That was good. The railroad camp was no place for a girl. "So what's the good news?" Ezra looked at him for a long moment then sighed. "Apparently she is to be wed soon. Li Pong simply wished to thank me, us, for our help." The healer smiled. "That is good news. I hadn't realized she left. Glad she could get back home." He frowned suddenly. "Does she seem happy? To be getting married that is?" Nathan asked, suddenly wondering if that was why Ezra seemed upset. Ezra nodded. "It seems she has found true love." Nathan leaned back and smiled with relief. "Well, good, that's good." He observed Ezra, watching him poke at his eggs and still not eating them. "So what's wrong, then?" Nathan finally asked, unable to leave it be. "Why would you think there is anything wrong?" Ezra asked innocently. "Because those eggs haven't done anything to you, but you've been poking holes in them with a vengeance for the last few minutes," Nathan replied, eyebrows raised for emphasis. Ezra placed his fork on his plate and sighed. "If you mention a word of this to Mr. Wilmington, you will regret it for all your days." Nathan's eyebrows rose higher, but he wisely said nothing. Ezra took a breath and released it with another sigh. "I suppose I... Li Pong and I, well... I guess I miss her." He looked up at Nathan who just nodded. Encouraged, Ezra continued. "We became friends, she was sweet and kind and I..." Ezra shook his head. "It was foolish of me to even consider that there may be more to our friendship. We are from two different worlds and never the twain shall meet," he finished forlornly. Nathan sat in silence, not really sure what to say. For one, he never expected that Ezra would share something so personal with him. And he really didn't know what he could say that would help. Ezra picked up his fork and started picking at his food again. Nathan sighed. "You know Ezra, I never did understand why you didn't try to help Li Pong out as soon as her uncle offered to sell her to you." Ezra's eyebrows rose in surprise. "I am many things, Mr. Jackson, but a slave trader is not one of them," he said indignantly. Nathan waved his hand. "That's not what I meant. I think I know you pretty well and you don't usually allow women or children to be misused. I was surprised that you didn't pay the man for her and turn her loose from the start." Ezra let out a puff of air. "Discretion is the better part of valor, Mr. Jackson. If you hadn't spoken up with your ridiculous offer to buy her, I may have been able to arrange a less confrontational way to win her freedom. As it was, you incurred the wrath of that behemoth upon me and very well may have put Li Pong in danger as well. You certainly did not do her reputation any good, forcing her to come to me to save face." Nathan frowned. "What the hell do you mean? I didn't force her to go to your room. She was free to go wherever she wanted." Ezra shook his head emphatically. "No, she was not. She was honor bound to acquiesce to her uncle's wishes. She was sold to me by her uncle and in the eyes of her culture bound to honor that deal. Fortunately, we found a way to release Li Pong from her responsibility without losing face and thus she was able to return home unhindered." They sat in silence for a long moment as Nathan tried to absorb what Ezra had said. He didn't understand what honor had to do with selling your own kin. But he had seen enough honorable men with different ideas as to what honor meant to know that one person's idea of honor was not necessarily the same as another's. There was really only one thing he knew for certain about the whole incident. Nathan swallowed. "I, uh, I owe you an apology, Ezra," he said, gaining Ezra's full attention. Wide, surprised green eyes met his, making Nathan feel even more uncomfortable. "I had no right to say what I did or to think you would take advantage of the girl. I was surprised to find her in your room and... well, I'm sorry I doubted you." Ezra stared at him, seemingly speechless. Finally he licked his lips and nodded. "I accept your apology, Nathan." He stood and offered Nathan his hand. Nathan smiled brightly, shaking Ezra's hand. "Thank you." Ezra nodded, placed his hat on his head and headed toward the door. He stopped at the doorway and turned to face Nathan. "But you still owe me seven dollars," Ezra added straight-faced as he backed through the swinging doors touching the brim of his hat in salute. "What?" Nathan spluttered as the gambler disappeared from sight. The end

Feedback is greatly appreaciated. JudyL