RATING: PG-13 for some rough language
CATEGORY: Challenge - Old West - South Bridge Series
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:  The RoundUp 2005 Challenge: offered by NotTasha:  A river must figure in your story.   The story must contain at least one of the following items:  a traffic ticket, nachos, an overloaded vehicle, a ghost town, or obnoxious singing .  You must use five of the following words:  roadway (or Rodeway), cracker, soliloquy, pistachio, devil, simple, bobble or bauble, topography, maelstrom and/or  freakish.  The story should be under 5,000 words.
SUMMARY:  Okay, so I had to use a river... so what river would I use?  Yes, the Banyan... the river that always brings trouble for Ezra... which means we must return to the South Bridge series.  Ezra and Josiah attempt to cross the Banyan river, and meet up with some trouble. 
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
DATE:  June 8, 2005, updated September 13, 2013

Someone's Lifesavings
By NotTasha... I like Lifesavers... especially the cherry ones


Two horseman moved at an uncomfortable jog along the primitive roadway, one keeping a step or two in front of the other.  The second man seemed determined to not let the other get away.  The man in the lead, more compact than the other, had a casual stance and a mild expression that belied the tightness in his shoulders.  They continued on their way, crossing the even topography, at an oblique angle to the Banyon River.

The bigger man was a step or two behind the other.  Older with graying hair, he grimaced and gestured as they rode, his voice distinguishable across the distance.  The lead man, dressed in a bright jacket and a low-crown hat, spoke in softer tones that were eaten up in the gentle breeze.  They rode, at odds with one another, but hanging together as if they could not let loose of one another.

"Ezra," the older man groused.  "I thought better of you.  When they told me what you'd done, I didn't believe it.  I thought the people of Bedryville didn't know anything about you. That they'd gotten it all wrong."

"Perhaps motives were misunderstood," Ezra responded.

Sanchez went on, "I couldn't believe it.  Then… to hear it from your own mouth."  He let out an exasperated sigh.  "I don't know how you can look at yourself in the mirror."

The brightly-dressed man paused dramatically, then with a charming smile, he ran one hand along his chin.  "I find my visage quite appealing," he drawled, "and hardly reason for offence."

"Ezra, what you did was morally bankrupt, unchristian, inhumane."

"Inhumane, Mr. Sanchez?" his queried.  "I lack humanity?  My actions are hardly what I'd call un-human.  In fact, this is all rather indicative of human foibles."

"It wasn't right," was Josiah's response.  "I thought you were a better man than that."

With a shrug, Ezra responded, "Think again."

"To take that man's lifesavings!"

"I didn't take anything," Ezra responded, "He freely placed it on the table as his stake in the game."

"It was everything he had!"

"Not so.  I left him with the clothing on his back, his horse, and enough money for dinner.  Quite magnanimous of me, I thought."

"You encouraged his recklessness!"

"I invited him kindly."

"You stripped him of everything of worth!  He sold off his watch, his fob, his cufflinks to keep playing."


"…his Bible…"

"As I said, mere trifles and easily given up."

"You took his mother's ring!"

"More useful to me than the Bible, I'd think.  And the stone could be easily remounted to a band more fashionable for my hand."  And he flicked his hand about to demonstrate.

"You took everything he owned.  Left him humiliated."

Standish's casual expression became something harder, and his lips twitched for a moment before he could say, "Better than the shame of sending him from my table, whipped like a dog."

"You know it wasn't right," Sanchez growled.  "You shouldn't have let it go on!"

With a sigh, Ezra commented, "Mr. Chaplin was a grown man -- capable of making his own decisions."  He flicked at his red jacket.  "I clearly advertised my profession and he came willingly to my table.  He wanted a night's entertainment and I provided such.  At no point did I twist his arm or draw on him, demanding that he wager everything he owned."

"Someone's lifesavings, Ezra!" Josiah repeated through his teeth.  "A good man doesn't do that!"

"I've never claimed I was such," Ezra stated evenly. "He came with his friends, laughing about how he'd teach me a lesson."

"So you taught him one instead," Josiah returned severely.  "I thought better of you, Ezra."

"That, my friend, is your error," Ezra responded.  "I cannot help it if you believe in myths and consider me something other than what I am."  He let loose a sigh, saying, "I might as well be offering a soliloquy.  I seem to be speaking to myself."

"Oh, I hear you, Ezra.  I hear every word," Josiah returned darkly.  "You should have returned some of his money – the ring at least."

Ezra reined in his horse sharply, drawing a surprised grunt from Chaucer.  Prophet continued on for a few steps before Josiah could bring him around.  "What did you say?" Ezra cried, incredulous.

"You should have returned your ill-gotten gains," Josiah pronounced.

Sputtering fitfully, Ezra finally found words, "The devil I would!  Return his money?  When he freely gambled it away?"  Folding his arms over his chest, Ezra shook his head and uttered, "My gains are hardly ill-gotten.  The only 'illness' associated with the gathering of the funds was that the man played deplorably and deserved to lose every dime."

"It was wrong!" Josiah barked out.

"It was perfectly right," Ezra returned, not changing his position.

"He was a good man."

"And I'm not," Ezra responded, repeating Josiah's previous sentiment.

"Not in this instance."

As Ezra tucked in his chin at this comment, Josiah uttered thunderously, "Sometimes, I wish I didn't know you."

For a moment, they were silent, staring at each other from horseback.  Then, lifting his chin, Ezra gave Chaucer a little kick and the horse started again and they continued on their way toward the river, where they would cross it at the shallows to continue on their way home.


They'd been riding in silence, so they easily heard the ruckus rising from the river. Without a word, they diverted their path, following the river downstream, until they found the source of the noise and Ezra finally spoke.  "Nothing good…" he started and paused,  "… has ever come out of South Bridge."

A group of travelers labored at the river's edge – making more noise than a passel of wranglers at work.

Josiah gave Ezra a look. "They're not comin' from South Bridge if they were crossing here. They would've crossed at the bridge."

"I wasn't talkin' about them," Ezra responded thickly.  "I was referrin' to the river."

A half-dozen men were crowded into a buckboard, eased halfway across the river.  They shouted as the horses balked.  A seventh man, knee-deep in the current, tried to lead the team forward.

"Hell and damnation," Ezra muttered, urging Chaucer forward.  "They'll never make it."

"Stop!" Josiah shouted at them, following Ezra down the bank. "Stop what you're doing!"

The man in the water looked up with a scowl.  Passengers turned anxiously toward them.

"What the hell are you doin'?" Ezra demanded to know as he reached the river's edge.

"Crossing!" the man in the water returned.

"But the shallows are upriver," Josiah stated, pointing around the bend.

"It's shallow enough here," the man returned.

"I dunno, Ben," one of the passengers stated, looking at the water that rushed beneath them.  "Maybe we should check it out."

"Shut up, Henry, I know what I'm doing," Ben returned.  He glared at the newcomers.  "I've done this before."

"Then you're an abject fool," Ezra told him.  "If you were to travel upriver a short distance, you'd find an easy crossing."

"I can handle it," Ben responded brusquely, gripping the halter of the nearest horse.  "Done it lots of times."

"With so big a load?" Josiah returned, nodding to the men and the supplies that filled the wagon – barrels took up much of the room.  The passengers were barely more than teens -- probably ranch hands or laborers.  They looked alarmed as the water rushed under the wagon.

Ben shook his head, and stated, "I know what I'm doing."

Ezra let out a sigh and glanced to Josiah.  "Famous last words," he muttered.

With a frustrated movement, Ben tugged at the horse and uttered a, "He-yah!" urging the animal forward.  The horse, obviously unhappy with the situation, took a step and another, and his mate went with him.

"The shallows!" Josiah insisted, pointing upriver.  "Don't be a fool, boy!"

But Ben didn't turn and the wagon lurched forward.  The passengers gripped the sides. One clung to a cracker barrel. Others hugged the sacks that filled the bed. The wagon jounced and bobbled, its wheels driving into the Banyon as the horses splashed anxiously before.

"This won't end well," Ezra divined.

Josiah hadn't given up.  Determinedly, he urged Prophet into the water.  The big horse snorted and pranced about for a moment, and then drove forward.  Groaning and knowing better, Ezra followed.

"It's shallow enough," Ben told them.

"It deepens!" Josiah insisted as he approached the wagon.  "Look!  The water moves slower up ahead.  You're not getting the wagon through that!"  He glanced at the passengers, seeing their frightened expressions.

Ben wasn't listening.  He lowered his head into his collar and ignored the man who followed.  Josiah continued – coaxing Prophet along the upstream side of the wagon.  Ezra brought Chaucer to a stop, watching dubiously from his position just downstream of the slowly moving vehicle.

"You have to listen to me!" Josiah insisted.

Ben did no such thing.

Ezra watched the boys in the wagon.  His gaze lifted to Ben, who was urging the horses forward, in spite of their reluctance to enter the slower water.  Without changing his glance, Standish told the boys, "Hang on."

Ben took another step, and let out a gasp and he disappeared under the surface of the water.  The horses panicked and surged forward.  With a jerk, the overloaded wagon tottered. 

The anxious young men inside the wagon made frantic movements, attempting to save their cargo and themselves.  The whole thing teetered.  They shouted.  They yelled.  Fortunately, most of the men had heeded Ezra's softly voiced warning and had held firm as their vehicle slipped halfway underwater.  It was only Henry that lost his grip and, with a yelp, plunged into the water.

Ben, shot upward, sputtering and disoriented.  It took a moment to understand what had happened before he desperately tried to still the horses. 

Ezra sighed, watching Henry's fall, and angled Chaucer about to snag him.  But the boy didn't come up immediately, caught in some quick current near the bottom.  Splashing through the shallower water, Ezra tried to find the boy.  "Where are you, son?" he muttered.  "Where?"  His eyes narrowed on the surface of the flow.

Suddenly, his eyes tracked and caught the sight of a head breaking through.  Henry gave a terrified cry – several yards downriver.  Thrashing about stupidly, the kid fought to stay at the surface, but the current that had him would not let go and he was whisked away.

"Ezra!" Josiah shouted as Chaucer recklessly splashed downriver in pursuit.  "Ezra!"

Ezra turned long enough to let his voice carry.  "I'll get him," he promised, and then he disappeared around a bend.

Wide-eyed, Josiah said nothing more, watching where Ezra had vanished.  Lord, he pleaded, not again.  Ezra and the Banyon River had never been a good mix – twice he'd nearly lost the man to that waterway – and now Ezra had just disappeared for the third time.

I'd thought he'd died, Josiah remembered as he helped with the wagon.  A tightness came to his chest at the memories, the grief, recalling the earlier visits to this river.  Dear God, don't let it happen – not this time – not again.

Nearby shouting brought Josiah back to the present.  The wagon was losing its load, but the men still frantically clung as the horses pulled relentlessly, thrashing about in their attempt to escape, relentlessly pulling the stuck wagon into deeper water.  Boxes and bags came loose and the passengers continued to yell in their panic.

Ben tried to manhandle the horses to a stop, but they were too damn terrified.

The preacher was off his horse and plunging through the quickly deepening water.  He struggled onto the jerking, tipping wagon and climbed into the seat.  "Look out!" he warned Ben, "I'm letting them loose!"

Ben gave him an anxious look as he clung to one horse and offered a nod of comprehension.  And, careful of the trashing hooves, Josiah reached down through the water, to find the hitch and release the team.  He had to feel his way.  Fingers clasped the pin after a moment.  He grasped and pulled.

The pair of horses bolted forward the second they were released.  The wagon jerked, then settled, half-submerged.  Ben still clung to the nearest horse, letting it pull him forward as they swam to the opposite shore.

Ben was safe.  Josiah turned his attention to the others.  The remaining young men looked even more childlike as they clung to the buckboard, soaked and shivering and scared. At least the wagon stopped moving – it wouldn't be dragged any deeper.  "Can any of you swim?" he asked.

A few of them nodded – most shook their heads.  Of course not, Josiah thought with a sigh.  He glanced toward the way they'd come as he shuffled about, climbing off the vehicle.  "Those that can swim, get off at the low end.  It's downstream and the wagon will protect you from the current," he directed as he demonstrated, finding himself up to the tops of his thighs.  "Help the others off, then make your way to the bank."

"What about the goods?" Ben shouted from the other bank, where he'd managed to get the team under control and was holding them steady.

Josiah eyed the sacks that soaked in the water – the barrels and boxes that were still wedged into the bed.  "We get the men that can't swim to shore.  Then we see about saving the load and the wagon."  He looked to one of the fellows that was struggling down beside him, and asked, "Can Henry swim?"

The man shook his head and responded, "Not a stroke."

Damn… damn.  Sanchez stayed long enough to ensure the first young men made it safely into the water, that they were helping the others off – but he couldn't remain.  With a determined look, he forced his way through the water.  The river shallowed and was soon little more than knee-deep.  He turned toward the wagon, one last time to convince himself that the men would manage without him, then, seeing things were going well, he strode toward the bank.  There were others that needed him more.

Prophet waited – smart enough to make it to the bank and safely.  "Come on, horse," he called as caught the animal and then swung himself into the saddle.  "Let's go see what sort of trouble Ezra's got himself into."

He urged the animal onward and they started off at a trot along the bank.  We'll find them.  He kept his eye on the river, watching as it narrowed – and deepened – remembering when he'd followed this same river before – further south – into Mexico.  He set his jaw, recalling how he'd searched for Ezra then.  

Hang on, Ezra.  Don't do anything foolish.  He focused on hurrying his search, pleading to any god that would listen.  Please, don't take him.  Let him be safe.  Let him be on the riverbank with that boy, laughing at me when I find him.  Let him mock me for my worry.  Let him harass that kid for getting him wet. Let him blame me.   Let him rile me with his stories.  Dear God, let him be fine.

The river twisted and turned through the channel, hiding everything, so he let out a surprised gasp when the chestnut gelding suddenly was revealed to him at the riverside -- just the horse, and no rider.  Oh, Ezra… no!  Chaucer was soaked to the stomach and pranced around anxiously.  The horse gave a plaintive whiney as Josiah paused for a moment to regard the animal, and then continued past.  Chaucer, ever vigilant, remained.

"Ezra!" Josiah shouted, his voice booming above the roll of the river.  "EZRA!"  And the river twisted about.

He listened, straining to hear above the clatter of his horse's hooves, the jangle of the gear, the jumble of the river.  "EZRA!"  Somewhere, mixed up in it all, Josiah swore he heard the call returned with a frantic, "Help!"

He drove in his heels and Prophet shot forward, rounding another bend, and another.  How much longer? How long?  Then, finally, he spotted the trunk of a downed tree and two men.  Again, Josiah thought at the sight, recalling when he'd fished his grandson from the Banyon, clinging to Ezra, trapped in the branches of a toppled tree.

So eerily familiar -- How could this happen again?

But Ezra was alive – and nearly safe again.  Letting out a sigh of relief, Josiah leaped down from his saddle and shouted, "Ezra!  I'm here!"

"Well, get over here then!" Ezra returned.  "We can't hang on much longer!"

Slogging into the water, Josiah struggled for a plan of action.  Ezra and Henry were clinging to the trunk that leaned across the water. The tree they clung to rested just above the water's surface, providing no protection from the current. The young man, white with fear, clasped at the bark.  Ezra hung on to the nub of a branch with one hand, and the other grabbed onto Henry's arm.

Smiling, Ezra exclaimed, "Josiah, we really must stop meeting like this."

The older man sighed. "I couldn't agree more."  It was an ill-starred river for the gambler and he'd nearly drowned the last time.  Won't happen again!  I wasn't able to hold onto him then, Josiah recalled.  I won't let go of him now.  I will not lose my grip on him this time!

"Can you move toward me?" Josiah asked as he waded into the water and edged along the trunk.

Henry, the closer of the two, visibly shuddered and shook his head.  Ezra looked around him and stated glumly, "Not unless I climb over the boy."

At that statement, Henry turned toward Ezra, crying, "Don't leave me here! I can't swim!  Don't!"

Giving Josiah a long suffering look, Ezra stated, "You'll have to fetch him.  I'm afraid my own strength is waning and I won't be able to manhandle him across without help." 

With a nod, Josiah shuffled toward them, one hand on the tree, edging his way into the quickly deepening water that surged past them.  It was chilly, even on this warm day – and the cold was certainly sapping the energy of the men who'd been trapped in that maelstrom of rushing water.

As he neared, Josiah could see Henry's panic – the boy's eyes were wide with fear, and he kept repeating, "Don't leave me… don't leave me."

Ezra assured quietly, "I have nowhere to go as you're blocking my escape.  Just hang on a moment longer and Mr. Sanchez will certainly bring you to shore."  He kept one hand tight on the boy's arm.

"I'm almost there!" Josiah guaranteed.  As he drew closer, Josiah nodded reassuringly and reached out a hand.  "I'll get you," he told him.  I swear.  But before he could grasp onto the lad, Henry suddenly launched himself – aiming to grab onto his latest rescuer.

Henry hadn't accounted for the current, and the moment he let loose his hold on the tree, the Banyon yanked him away. Josiah's hand clasped at nothing as he made a frantic grab and he let out a frustrated shout as the river took Henry away.

Ezra let out a frustrated groan, but he didn't release his hold on Henry's arm.  The water tugged him and the boy, and he was stretched out, both arms taut as numb fingers clenched the stub of a branch and Henry's arm.  The boy was pulled full-out.

Frantic, Josiah surged onward, reaching for Ezra before the inevitable.

"Josiah!" Standish shouted.  "I can't…" In a second, too tired and cold to hang on, Ezra's fingers failed and, with a lost look, his fingers slipped from the tree.

Josiah shoved forward, shouting in panic, and shot out one arm, barely catching hold of the gambler's jacket sleeve as the river tore him away.  Got him! Josiah rejoiced as he grasped onto the stub of a branch.  They were pulled out like a train in the current.  "Hang on!" he shouted.

"Hanging on," Standish repeated from his tender position in the middle, keeping a fierce hold on Henry's arm.  Henry twisted about, getting his other hand onto Ezra, and holding on for all he was worth.  Standish glanced over his shoulder to where Josiah gripped his sleeve.  "You'd best hang tightly, too," he said told Josiah as he grasped hold of the material from within, unable to reach Josiah's hand.

Beyond him, Henry let out a panicked shout.  "I'm gonna drown!"

"I've got you!" Ezra insisted, "And Mr. Sanchez has me!"

"I can't swim!  I'm going to drown!" the young man continued to cry as the water rushed over his head.  He sputtered and coughed.

"Don't panic!" Ezra tried to assure him.  "We'll get out of this if you remain calm."

But Henry was beyond reason.  Josiah saw it in his eyes, the freakish look of a spooked horse.  Frantically, the young man started working his way toward safety.

Josiah watched in horror as the young man climbed Ezra's arm, crawling along Standish as if he were rope.  "NO!" Sanchez shouted, as Ezra's head went under beneath Henry's weight.

Ezra struggled, trying to get out from under, at the same time, keeping a hold on the kid, not willing to let him go.  Henry worked his way over the top of Ezra, oblivious of what he was doing.  "Don't!" Sanchez shouted.  "Stop!"

"Help me!"  Henry babbled as he clambered onto Ezra's shoulders and stretched one hand toward Josiah.  "Don't let me drown!"

Ezra fought to get his head to the surface.  He struggled, grasping hold of Henry as the kid climbed over the top of him.  He managed one breath before Henry forced him down again.

"Let him up!" Josiah demanded.

His eyes as wide as saucers, Henry reached for Josiah's wrist.  "Help me!" he cried plaintively, submerging his prior rescuer, then reached and clasped onto another.

Horrified, Josiah could do nothing.  "Let him up!" he demanded, but Henry was beyond hearing.

Ezra struggled to the surface, managing to gasp out, "For the love of God, Josiah, he's got you.  Let go of me!" before he was plunged downward again.

One hand on the branch, the other at Ezra's sleeve, Josiah shouted vehemently, "Not this time!"

Ezra turned his head, managing to get his head above water again.  He met the determined gaze of Sanchez.  "Let go!" he sputtered, coughing as he gasped out, "He's drowning me!"

Josiah exclaimed fiercely, "I can't!"

Seeing the unwavering expression, Ezra knew he had no choice.  Josiah would never let him loose.  Henry struggled again, trying to get out of the fearsome rush of the river, climbing on top of him as if he were nothing more than flotsam.   With a sigh, Ezra did what he had to do.

Josiah had an iron grasp of the southerner, hanging onto his sodden jacket sleeve as Henry held onto his arm and the boy kept Ezra down, using him as his own personal floatation device.  "Stop it!" Josiah shouted, wanting to shake the terrified young man off of both of them.  He strained against their combined weight, his fingers barely keeping their hold on the branch, anchoring them.  And then, the weight seemed to disappear.

Henry gasped, finding himself fully in the water, hanging onto Josiah's arm.  And Josiah clasped only a jacket.  It happened so quickly.  One moment the preacher had an unwavering grip on the gamester, and then, Ezra had simply slipped away.  Like a snake sloughing its skin, Ezra just disappeared from within the red jacket and shot out from under Henry – and into the current again.

"No!" Sanchez cried, looking in horror as Ezra surfaced downstream, gasping and trying to swim before the river took him.

"Oh God!  Oh God!  Oh God!" Henry was crying, as Josiah pulled them both toward the trunk of the downed tree.  Hard work, his arms barely seemed to functioning after the strain and the cold.  The kid managed to scramble up onto the log, using Josiah's shoulder as a step, and then he dragged himself along the top of it, desperate for shore.

Josiah remained, watching where Ezra had disappeared.  "No," he whispered.  "Not again…" Ezra was gone – taken again by the damned Banyon River.  And for a moment, Josiah let the river rush around him.

Oh Ezra, not again.  I won't let it happen.  Snapping out of his daze, Josiah struggled through the water to shore, not pausing as he made his way to his horse. 

Henry was nearly to land, as Sanchez got into the saddle.  He panted, trying to catch his breath, unable to say anything as Rescuer #2 disappeared around the bend, after Rescuer #1.

I must find him!  I have to find him, Josiah pledged, driving Prophet onward. Don't let him be hurt.  Let me find him.  Let him be fine!

His grasp on the reins was clumsy and he looked down, shocked as he realized he'd never let go of Ezra's jacket sleeve.  He stared at it, horrified that this might be all that was left of the gambler.  No! No!  It won't end this way!

He set his jaw so tightly, his teeth started to ache.  Prophet continued on his path, following the damned river, moving as quickly over the difficult terrain.

I'll find you!  I promise… Ezra… I swear…I won't let you down! Not this time.  Not ever again.

The river rolled on and Josiah continued to follow it – hoping beyond hope – but still there'd been no sight of the gambler.  I'll find you.  I swear.

He damned himself for his early conversation with the man, recalling every accusation and cruel word flung at him.  I'm sorry, Ezra.  Forgive me. I should know you better.   If you only survive this, I'll….

Then suddenly, as the river twisted about again, a sight appeared that brought a grin to Josiah's taut face and a tear to his eye.  Impossibly, at the edge of the river, was a rather drenched southerner, looking casual and calm in the sunlight. He sat with one leg drawn up, and the other out in front of him, his hair plastered to his head, his clothing clinging.

Ezra looked up as Josiah approached and smiled widely at him.  Grinning as openly as a child might, he lifted a treasure for inspection.  Josiah slowed his horse, showing all his teeth in an open grin, as Ezra displayed a wad of cash.

"Didn't lose it!" Ezra declared, looking tickled as hell.  His smile only increased as he saw the jacket that had never left Josiah's grasp.


They rode away from the Banyon River, having made it to the opposite side, escorting the ill-fated travelers across the shallows.  The men were glad to be reunited with the lost member of their group.  Ezra and Josiah were glad to be rid of him.  The crossing had been much less exciting where the river was wide.  They'd made their way safely across and without incident.  Then, as soon as it was possible, they disengaged themselves and left the wagonload of men behind.

They'd both changed from their sodden clothing once they had been reunited with their baggage.  Josiah shook his head when he realized that the gambler had managed to divest himself of his weapons and jewelry before he took his plunge – they were all safely secured within his saddlebags.  The wet jacket rested over Ezra's lap as they rode, and the gambler carefully went through the pockets as they made their way home.

He tossed away a ruined deck of cards, and located the things he'd won from Chaplin.  The ring was worn on the tip of one finger for a moment.  And Ezra grinned across at Josiah before slipping the ornament in his shirt pocket and continuing to go through his loot.

"That boy would have killed you," Josiah commented.

"I know," Ezra responded, lifting his eyebrows.  "I am quite aware of that fact."

"You could have fought him," Josiah decided.  "You could have shaken him from you… punched him."

Ezra shrugged, busy with his possessions.  A wet handkerchief edged in pistachio-colored floss was shoved back into the pocket it had come from.  "The boy would have certainly drowned," Ezra returned.

They said nothing for several minutes.  Ezra grimaced as he found the waterlogged pocket-sized Bible.  He let the ruined book fall to the ground.  It landed with a thunk and they rode past it.  Thoughtfully, Standish pulled the wad of cash from his still-wet boot and smiled at it lovingly, before reinserting it into his vault.

Josiah shook his head, marveling at the gambler – who'd taken someone's lifesavings one minute, and then risked himself to save the life of another a moment later.

Morally bankrupt, Josiah had called him earlier that day.  No, that wasn't right at all, was it?  Ezra was a bit tilted in his morals, but hardly bankrupt, Josiah decided, hardly inhumane.  Ezra had nearly given up his own life to save that kid.  I was wrong, Josiah realized.  Dead wrong.

Ezra gave him a curious look and asked, "Why are you lookin' at me like that?"

"Like what?" Josiah returned.

Unsure, Ezra told him, "That look of yours.  Distressing.  Are you ill?  I'd hate to have to deal with you if you were in diminished capacity.  I don't believe that I'd be able to keep you on your horse."

Josiah sighed, realizing Ezra's attempt at redirecting him, trying to draw his anger.  Why the hell did he have to do that?  "Ezra," he started, not knowing what else to say.

Ezra kept fussing with the jacket, bringing more treasures out of further pockets, grinning giddily.  Standish waited a moment for Josiah to continue, but when the preacher didn't, he finally lifted his gaze and asked, "Well?"

Josiah pursed his lips in thought, and finally stated, "I'm glad to know you."

To that, Ezra grinned, showing his gold tooth, and he chuckled contentedly at the sentiment.



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Last updated 22.9.2013