CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
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 Station, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: June 2004 Challenge, offered by Q'Mar:   A lost child brings up memories and emotions for several members of the Seven as they search for the little one, both as individuals and as a group. Try to include candy, a cape, too much sun, a bedtime story, sweet potatoes, and a fancy clock.
SUMMARY:  It's another South Bridge Story.   Josiah and Ezra return to South Bridge in search of a certain someone.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions  are greatly appreciated.
SPOILERS: To Somewhere In-Between, Someone Else's Son , and Sometimes I Wonder.
DATE: June 27, 2004, small housekeeping done September 13, 2013

Something Solid to Stand On
By NotTasha...rock solid


"Josiah," Mary called, leaning from the front door of the Clarion.  "Could you help me?"  The newspaperwoman smiled, pushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear and turning it bluish-black in the process.

The preacher stopped mid-stride and turned slowly toward her.  Opening his arms in an expansive gesture, Josiah responded, "Your wish is my command."

Mrs. Travis snatched a rag from her apron. "I'm so glad you came by," she stated as wiped at her inky hands, pushing the door wide with her elbow to let him in.  "I have to move some of my archived papers and I may've overfilled some of the crates.  I just need a hand to get them into the back room."

Josiah nodded and released a breath, hoping the crates weren't too big.  The last time Mary had him move something in her office, it involved rearranging the printing press and several of the large file cabinets.  His back had ached for a week after that.  He'd spent those days hunched over and hobbling along the boardwalk.  Ezra had found amusement in his infirmity, chattering on about the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Instead of growling at the memory, Josiah put on a cheerful smile. He followed Mary into the newspaper office hoping for the best.  The press office was dim and quiet, smelling strongly of ink.   The newspaper had been printed the day before, detailing the story of the latest attempt on the Bank of Four Corners.  The would-be robbers had given up without much of a fight, so Mary needed to adjust the facts a bit to make the story interesting.  The paper had sold out quickly.

As he walked in, Josiah quickly sighted the boxes. There, in the middle of the floor, were two huge crates, both brimming with old newspapers.  They looked dense and utterly immobile.  Great…Josiah thought.  Looks like I should prepare myself for another week of Quasimodo jokes.

Mary bent beside the nearest of the two boxes and picked up some of the loose pages that littered the ground around them.  "I have them arranged by date – all from last year."  Shoving down, she tried to get the last papers flush with the top, but they didn't want to give.  She'd make them fit.  She turned and sat on the stacks, smiling self-consciously at Josiah.  The preacher returned the expression, amused.

Mary explained, "They're from all over the area and it's surprising what people will stand for journalism."  Wiggling a bit on the pile, she continued, "Most of the writing is just drivel.  Awful!  It makes me wonder if any of my peers understand the English language, and their idea of what passes as 'newsworthy' often leaves me scratching my head."

"Well," Josiah responded, "Not everyone has your journalistic integrity."   And Mary smiled happily in response as she bounced on the pile of papers.  Sanchez wandered to the doorway to the back room and glanced within.  The room was piled with similar crates – it would probably take some rearranging to find spots for the new additions.

"Perhaps some purging is in order," Josiah suggested.

With a condescending tone, Mary commented, "But one never knows when a little research will be necessary.  These archives could prove invaluable."

Un-valuable, Josiah thought as he approached the second box and squatted down.  Who would want to go through this mess?  He doubted that the boxes would be accessed again.

Placing his balance carefully, Josiah made certain that none of the loose sheets were beneath his boots – he needed solid ground to stand on.  He wrapped his arms around the crate, wanting to gauge the weight of it before he hefted it.  He groaned, not even wanting to try.  Perhaps it was desperation to get out of the job, but the masthead on the top paper caught his eye:  "The South Bridge Sentinel".  He grunted when he saw the name.  South Bridge… nothing good ever came from that place. Nothing compared to it for strife, humiliation, horror and hate.  Not even Purgatorio, where, at least, a man might get a good…

"Lay it on the floor in the next room, Josiah," Mary stated, interrupting his thoughts.  "That would be wonderful.  Then you can help me rearrange things a bit back there.  You're such a dear."

Yes, a dear, Josiah thought, a deer caught in a sights.  Josiah's eyes traveled along the newspaper, wondering what sort of evil moved in South Bridge.  The date was over a year old and the paper had yellowed over time.  Whatever news was carried on this paper was old now.  He scanned it, stopping at the most prominent story:  "Abandoned Child Adopted by Local Couple."  As Mary continued to wriggle on her box, trying to crush the contents by manipulation of her backside, Josiah pulled the paper free and read through the story.

A child had been left in South Bridge, a boy that was possibly two years old when the story was written.  He was described as a part-Mexican, left outside of the church on a Sunday morning and … strangely enough… seemed to speak Swedish.

Josiah felt his world compress as he absorbed those words.  He was thrown back to another time – when he'd met up with his son, Miguel; when he met his daughter-in-law and grandson.  Per…Josiah thought.  My grandson… that boy… Per.  It would fit, wouldn't it?  A year past, that would be about the right time for the fleeing Kerstin to come back through that town.  Per!

He read no further and a droning seemed to fill his head.  Hot and lightheaded, he stared at the story, hardly breathing.  His gaze drifted to the newspaper's date again.  It would be right.  It would be just right! 

The child of his child – Miguel, the son that had been lost, was providing him with a replacement.  Per – his grandson was within reach. It was all he could dream for!  The floor seemed to roll beneath his feet.

From far away, a voice called, "Josiah?  Josiah?"  The cry became more urgent, and finally a jerk at his armed snapped Josiah out of the state.  "Josiah!" Mary cried obviously alarmed.

"Mary?" Josiah responded, feeling as if he were somewhere far from this place – far from the smell of ink and the Clarion, far from Four Corners, as far away as the Banyon River where he'd seen his grandson for the first and last time.  He could almost hear the river's roar; he could almost feel its chill, the force of it pulling against his limbs, tugging him away from terra firma.

Mary, wide-eyed, regarded the big preacher.  She'd jumped to her feet the moment he started to sway, fearful that Sanchez might come crashing down on top of her and the box of ill-packed papers.  "Are you all right?"

Josiah pointed at the story.  Dry mouthed, it took a moment for him to find his voice.  "Is there anything else about this boy?"

Mary frowned and took the paper from Sanchez, reading through it quickly, stepping out of the way in case Josiah went down.  "Oh, I remember this.  I can't recall if anything else was ever posted from South Bridge about it."  She smiled at Sanchez, stating, "It really wasn't a story that merited coverage here in Four Corners."

Josiah nodded, thinking all the while – my grandson – my Per.

"Josiah," Mary called again, noting the preacher's pallor.  "Do you need to sit down?  Are you going to be okay?"  Maybe he'd sit on that box in her stead.  It needed a bit more 'ooph' to get those papers mashed down. "Josiah, you really should sit."

"I'm fine… fine," Josiah managed to get out.  He reached and took the paper back from Mary.  He clutched it close, analyzing the words more carefully, reading that an unnamed, childless South Bridge couple had taken in the babe.  Per… so close for over a year now… in South Bridge.

Without another word, Josiah turned and left the print shop.  As he staggered out of the building and the boardwalk pitched beneath his feet.

As the door clapped shut, Mary called out, "Josiah?" one last time, but he was gone.   Looking at the two crates that still occupied the room, she let loose a dissatisfied sigh.


Chris!"  Josiah held up one hand and flailed the South Bridge Sentinel at the gunman.  Chris leaned outside of the jailhouse.  Beside him, Vin and Ezra were getting their instructions for the day.  Ezra held Chaucer's reins, preparing to take a patrol while Vin was already turned toward the door of the jail, to take his shift at watching the malcontents who'd tried to rob the bank.

"Chris!" Josiah called again, as if he expected Larabee to go running off.

"Josiah," Chris said with a nod.  He watched the preacher's approach, noting Josiah's alarm.  Shifting, Chris prepared himself for anything.

"Chris, I have to go," Josiah uttered, not even glancing at the two men who flanked the leader.

Larabee frowned.  "Where?"

Josiah swallowed and then exclaimed, "South Bridge."

Ezra cringed, ducking his head as if hit, and Vin chuckled at the reaction.

"South Bridge?"  Chris repeated and shook his head.  "Think that's wise?"

"Hardly," Ezra answered for Sanchez.  "I swear, that town is cursed!"

"I ain't had any trouble from there," Vin remarked with a smirk.

"You haven't been there!" Ezra shot back.

"Yup," Vin responded.  "That's why it ain't caused me any woe."

Ezra huffed, Vin looked satisfied, and Josiah scowled as Chris gave the preacher an appraising look.  "Chris, it's my boy," Josiah stated.

"Garcia?" Chris queried.

Ezra shut his eyes and leaned his head against his horse.  "Lord, help us all," Standish moaned. "The Sanchez offspring… a shining example of human excellence."

At that remark, Josiah turned an angry expression on Ezra.  "Not Miguel!" Josiah showed Larabee the old newspaper.  "Per, my grandson, Per."

Larabee read the article, pressing his lips together, evaluating the description, then handed the article to Standish.

"It gives no name," Ezra said after a perusal.  "And no complete description.  One cannot be certain that this is your grandson." The conman pointed to the article and cocked his head.  "The odds are against it, my friend.  This is not a sure thing."

With a disgusted movement, Josiah snatched the paper back from Ezra.  "Why must you always be so pessimistic?" he spat out.

"It's in my nature," Ezra returned with a smile. "And besides, I'm a realist… not a pessimist.  I always expect the best for myself, so that hardly makes me a cynic." 

Vin said nothing, standing at the doorway of the jailhouse, watching the others.  Josiah looked drunk as he clutched the paper, hardly able to keep his balance.  Chris hadn't yet moved, still leaning against a roof support, but looking dark and formidable.  Ezra smiled affably.

"I want him, Chris," Josiah said in a low voice.  "I need to get Per, to bring him back.  I'll raise him as my own.  I swear, I'll do good by him.  He'll be like a son to me.  I'll do it right this time!"

Lowering his head until the brim of his hat hid his eyes, Chris nodded.  If Larabee had heard that his child walked the face of the earth, he'd move mountains to get to him.  "Go," Chris allowed.  Josiah's face split with a joyful smile. "But you're taking Ezra with you," Chris included, and Josiah's expression fell.

Ezra, kicking disgustedly at the boardwalk, groaned out, "Now, see here…"

"Why would I have to bring HIM?" Josiah got in, before Ezra could continue.  "I know you figured I needed Standish when I went to South Bridge to find Miguel… but YOU sent ME there to bring HIM back a few months after that."  Josiah flung an accusing finger at Ezra.  The gambler, exaggerating the digit's nearness, went cross-eyed as he examined the finger thrust at him.   "Nobody in South Bridge attacked me.  I can go there without a shadow.  I'm a grown man!"

"No one's arguing that you ain't grown, Preacher-Man."  Chris met Josiah's furious gaze with an uncompromising glare.  "You and Ezra saw the boy.   It makes sense that both of you go – make sure it's your grandson."

"I think I can figure that out by myself," Josiah shouted back.  "I'll know my own kin. I don't need him." And the finger was aimed at Ezra again.

Standish yawned and smiled, looking bored.

"Figure a second set of eyes won't hurt," Chris returned.

"You want me saddled with a disparager who'll find every flaw and pull the rug out from under me!"  Josiah cried.  Per was so close!  His grandson had been in his backyard for over a year.  Already, Josiah could imagine the boy in his arms, could see himself riding home with the child, taking him back and raising him as a son.  He'd bring Per up right.  They'd be together.  Josiah had to get Per!  He wouldn't let anything stand in his way, definitely not a doubting conman.

Vin looked toward Ezra, who stood at the edge of the boardwalk, gently rubbing Chaucer's head.  The gambler's head was bowed as he listened to the argument, smiling still.  Tanner shook his head and waited.

"It's been over a year since you saw the boy," Chris started.

"I know that!  Do you think I don't know that?" Josiah snarled, his voice still rising.  People along the street steered clear of him, walking into the street to get around the group on the boardwalk.

"Kids change a lot in a year, especially when they're so young," Chris said.  "You take Ezra with you.  Both of you come to a conclusion regarding the kid."

With that, Josiah turned sharply and headed for the church to pack.  "I'll go where I please and do as I want," Josiah responded.  "I'll have a family!  Something solid! Something that's all mine.  Something real and right!"

The three men watched Josiah stomp away, moving like an enraged giant.  Under his breath, Ezra whispered, "Fee Fi Fo Fum!"  Which brought a quiet laugh from Vin and an unhappy grunt from Larabee.

"Ezra," Chris started, annoyed.

Giving Chaucer another scratch, Ezra turned toward Larabee and said, "I suppose you still want me to go along."

Chris nodded.  "Make sure he makes the right decision."

Ezra nodded and then commented, "Tearing the child away from his adopted parents would be akin to kidnapping."  He continued offhand, "That couple has treated the boy as their own for a year.  He is their son now.  Would it be right to just take him away?"

Chris sighed, hating that Ezra always brought up subjects that he didn't want to deal with.

"Sometimes an adopted parent might be preferable to one's blood," Ezra continued.  "What with the type of life our Mr. Sanchez leads here…"

"Ezra!  Enough!"  Chris responded.  "Just go!  Follow him and make sure Josiah doesn't do anything stupid."  Chris turned, his black duster fluttering around his legs as he pushed past Tanner, and shoved open the door to the jailhouse.  He disappeared within.

"Ez," Vin said softly as Standish tied Chaucer's reins to the hitching post.  He watched as Standish wrenched at the bar.  "You afraid that hitchin' post is gonna jump out at you?" Vin asked, watching Ezra's frustrated movements.

Releasing his hold on the wooden structure, he brought his head up.  "Mr. Tanner, I have some business to attend to… packing… gathering supplies… renting a packhorse… an appointment to cancel.  Hmmm, I promised Miss Heather that I'd meet her for dinner.  It'll be shameful if I just ran off on her."

"I could help out with that one," Vin said, smiling leadingly.

"The hell you will," Ezra responded.  "Miss Heather is not your type."

"I hear she likes 'em wild and wooly!" Vin's eyes sparked.  "Been seein' her on Ol' Buck's arm a couple of times…"

Ezra groaned and shook his head woefully, "Ruined!  The poor girl will be ruined!"

"So you don't mind…" Vin started, raising an eyebrow.

Ezra sighed and shrugged.  It made little difference now.  Miss Heather might have once shone like the sun, but an eclipse had darkened her.  The tart was tainted.

"Maybe I'll take her on a picnic tomorrow," Vin continued.  "Any ideas on what she'd like?"

"Baked potatoes and broccoli."

"What?"  Vin responded.

"Lots of broccoli.  Raw.  Bring bundles of it."

"Really?  What about a nice roast chicken or somethin'?"

Ezra shook his head vehemently.  "Oh, she abhors meat, Mr. Tanner, and will give her scalding opinion regarding it if you bring any near her. Just add more broccoli.  Mounds of it.  She'll be especially impressed if you leave it a secret until the last moment.  Let her get especially hungry and then reveal the feast."

"Okay," Vin responded, looking unhappy.  "Guess I could live with that."  He scratched the back of his head, making a face at the suggested fare.  Dang!  He glanced up to Ezra to see if he was serious, but there was a disquieted look to him.  "Ezra, you know how Josiah is…" Vin started, changing the subject abruptly.  "He gets worked up and he doesn't know what he's saying sometimes."

"Oh, he's well aware of what he says," Ezra responded.  "He just tends to be a bit more truthful when he's impassioned about something.  Now, if you forgive me, I must be going. Chaucer," he stated, turning to his horse and holding up a stern finger.  "Remain!"  And then he turned and walked up the street toward his room.


Josiah emerged from the church a short time later, hardly looking around as he carried his bag to the livery.   Chris emerged from the jail in time to see the preacher leave the stable on Prophet.  Vin looked to Chris, asking a silent question as to whether they should attempt to restrain the preacher until Ezra was ready.  Chris shook his head and they watched Sanchez hurry out of town.

Ezra took his time, going from his room to Potter's Store, then went in search of Miss Heather – which took some time since she was spending her afternoon with Nathan.  He finally ended up at the livery from where he escorted a loaded packhorse.  With saddlebags slung over his shoulder, Ezra came alongside Chaucer.  An hour had passed since Josiah's departure and Ezra appeared in no hurry to catch up.

"Ezra," Chris started as Ezra arrived before them.  "You plan on keeping an eye on that man?"

With a smile, Ezra explained, "Mr. Sanchez seems to have no tolerance for my company at this time.  I figure it would be best for both of us if we travel separately for now."  When Chris gave him an unsatisfied look, Ezra stated, "I'll find him before he meets up with the family.  If he's wise, he'll spend the night at the waterhole and I'll find him there.  If his mind is still unstable, I'll catch him in town."

"Don't fail me, Ezra," Chris commanded.  "Keep him from making a mistake."

"Mistake…" Ezra repeated as he tied the lead rope from the packhorse to Chaucer's saddle.  "We've all made mistakes."  Ezra looked to Chris and asked, "Any further orders?"

"Keep safe," Chris responded.   Vin, beside him, nodded.

Ezra untied the reins from the hitching post, then swung himself into his saddle. With a quick touch to the brim of his hat, he urged Chaucer out onto the trail to South Bridge.


Josiah was angry with himself:  angry because he'd left town without packing properly – leaving himself without a supper and with meager rations for his horse; angry because he'd pushed past the waterhole and exhausted his mount – they'd ended up spending the night at a much less pleasant location.  But mostly, he was angry about the way he'd treated Ezra.

Why do I do that? Josiah asked himself.  Why do I take very opportunity to strike down that young man?  Why do I work so hard to hurt him?  Is it because I want him to be a better man? I want only the best for him?  No, Josiah had to admit, his actions had little to do with bettering the southerner.

Maybe, Josiah thought, I behaved that way because I'm finally gaining a child of my own – my grandson.  Maybe, Josiah thought with a heavy heart, I won't need Ezra as a stand-in anymore.  I don't WANT him standing around anymore once I have my grandson.

Now that Josiah had had time to cool off, he could think a bit more reasonably.  Of course it made sense to bring that second set of eyes to identify the child.  Damn.  I get hot-headed sometimes, Sanchez thought, and glowered as he recalled dark periods of his life when he'd let his temper go too far. Black things had happened during those occasions – he'd performed years of penance in an attempt to right those wrongs.  There'll be years to go if I keep going the way I am, he thought sullenly.

Josiah sighed and kicked Prophet to a jog as they entered the main street of South Bridge.  After a few inquiries, he discovered that the name of the family that had taken in the child.  The Hensons lived short a ride from town.  Sanchez hesitated – so close now – he needed to pause, regroup, prepare himself for the next phase of this journey.  He needed to take a breath before he could find the boy and hold him in his arms.

Prophet was hungry and needed to breathe – Josiah would ensure that the neglected horse got what he deserved – meanwhile, his own belly was calling for sustenance.  After leaving Prophet at the livery, the preacher went to his favorite restaurant, The Happy Home, and sat down at a table.  He smiled when he saw Violet's familiar face.

Violet, the restaurant's owner, was a lovely woman, with a bosom as ample as her heart.  She smiled warmly, apparently glad to see him again.  Cheerfully, she told him that there'd be chicken and dumplings for lunch and he nodded his acceptance.  "Josiah," she said softly, confidentially, leaning toward him. "I must say, it's a surprise to see you here."

"Yes, I know," Josiah returned with a sigh.  "I hope I didn't cause you any trouble in my last visit."

The woman clucked and uttered, "Heaven's no!  Judge Sheltinga left town immediately after your little… discussion."  She bent near the preacher, getting dangerously close to spilling something loose, and told him, "I don't think anyone found out that you threatened his life."  She patted Josiah's arm.

Josiah smiled, grateful.

"Did he meet find his son?" she asked. 

 "No," Josiah said sadly.  "I don't think he has any intention of it."

"That's a pity," she said and moved away, scurrying into her kitchen.

Josiah recalled that incident – how he'd met up with Ezra's father in this very restaurant and heard the man's awful opinion of his son.  Scheltinga deserved to be run out of town, for what he said about his son, for the poor treatment he'd given his own child.  There are people that shouldn't have children, Josiah thought.  Ezra didn't deserve that man.

Ezra…would Ezra come to South Bridge this time?  Probably.  Larabee would see to it.

Stupid, Sanchez thought, two men traveling separately on the same trail when they should've come together.  Stupid.  Sanchez glanced through the restaurant's window and wondered if Ezra was okay – if he'd make it to South Bridge unharmed – if he'd even bothered to come.  Takes a lot to go where you're unwanted, Josiah thought.

He thought about Amelia, the mother of his child.  There was a time when he'd made a decision – to stay with Amelia, to take his young son, Miguel and go… or to leave the child with his mother.

He'd chosen the easy trail then, leaving young Miguel with Amelia.  It was easier than fighting a furious mother, easier than toting a child in his travels, easier than changing his whole life to become a father.  Life was so much simpler as an unburdened bachelor.  He'd regretted that decision ever since.

He wasn't going to face that same regret again.


After finishing lunch, Josiah wandered the main street of South Bridge, chagrinned to find himself trying to delay the next portion of his trip after all his hurry.  He'd wait for Ezra, he decided, wait to see if the conman showed up -- wait until nightfall if necessary.  Josiah figured they could go in the morning.  If Ezra didn't show up … then he'd just continue alone.

He garnered curious glances – apparently he was still well-known in the town, even though it had been well over a year since he laid waste to it.  People don't forget a thing like that.   He realized that maybe Ezra stayed behind in spite of Chris' orders.  Larabee could be severe, but he was also fair.  Maybe Standish had gotten the man-in-black to see his point of view.  In any case, Standish probably realized that he was better off facing the wrath of Chris Larabee instead of the blind fury of an enraged Josiah Sanchez.

Josiah had just finished walking the main street when Ezra appeared, his horse prancing as it entered the town, towing a packhorse along with him.   He came, Josiah thought, not sure what to make of it.  Ezra came.   When he caught Standish's eye, Josiah raised a hand, trying to look as if he'd calmed down since their earlier meeting.  He waited for Ezra to approach.

Ezra brought the horses to the boardwalk and gave Josiah a curt nod.  "Mr. Sanchez," Standish greeted, then dismounted before Josiah could say anything.  "Have you been able to make contact with the child yet?"

Josiah lowered his head and replied, "Not yet.   The Hensons live just outside of town."

"Ah, but you thought you might rest your horse a bit before leaving?  Excellent idea.  I recently allowed Chaucer and Monkey a bit of relaxation myself.  If you're ready to press on, Chaucer's ready.  I only need to find housing for Monkey and my excess belongings."

Josiah nodded and remained in his place as Ezra turned toward the livery with the horses.


They said little as they rode the final distance, closing in on the child.  Josiah's heart beat faster with each step.  Per – that darling child – my grandson.  He envisioned the reunion.  He could see Per running toward him. He'd stoop and swing the child into his arms, holding him tight – never to release him.  They'd be together until the end of his days – one solid family – something firm to build their lives upon.

A child needs that, he decided – stability – safety – a family

They rode on, Josiah wrapped in this vision and Ezra watching him carefully.

"I suppose the boy is talking quite a bit now," Ezra said to break the silence.  "He was such a wee thing when we first encountered him."

Josiah chuckled, remembering the sweet child.  "Yes, he was."

"And I suppose he speaks English.  A pity.  Swedish is such a lovely language."

As the preacher looked across at the gambler, a thought struck him.  "It surprises me that you don't know how to speak it," Sanchez stated.

Ezra's lips puckered in a smile.  "Swedish?"  He laughed.  "There are only so many languages that a man can know, and the Scandinavian tongues have escaped me."

"I'd think Swedish would be rather like Dutch," Josiah continued, not really hearing what Ezra was saying.  He didn't notice Ezra's pleasant expression change to something inscrutable.  "Certainly you know some Dutch."

Ezra responded, "Now, why should I know that particular language?"

"Because of your grandfather.  You spent some time with him.  I'd think you picked up a word or two," Josiah continued.

"How do you know about my grandfather?" Ezra asked uneasily, tilting his head at the preacher.

Josiah wasn't sure what he should say.  "I… happened upon the information."

Ezra gauged Josiah, narrowing his gaze, realizing what must have taken place during Josiah's last visit to South Bridge.  After a moment, Ezra started,  "He was…"  He paused, but realized that if he expected Josiah to speak about his own family, shouldn't he repay in kind?  Speaking in a disinterested tone, Ezra started again, "My grandfather was rather unable to speak when I knew him.  It was just a short time spent with him.  He was an old man, sick and scarcely able to note that someone was around him.  I hardly knew him, and he knew me not at all."  Ezra lifted his gaze as a ranch house came into sight.  Licking his lips, Ezra muttered, "Why, we're here already."  And he jammed his heels into Chaucer's sides.  The horse took off like a shot.


Ezra slowed his horse as Josiah caught up with him, and they approached the house at a judicious speed, so as not to alarm anyone within.  Cattle milled about, and a couple of horses frisked in the corral.  A dog barked.  A man appeared at one of the outbuildings.  He stood in the dim opening a moment before he strode out, calling the dog to his side.

"'Afternoon," the rancher greeted.

"Good afternoon!" Josiah returned enthusiastically.  "I'm Josiah, Josiah Sanchez."

"Ezra Standish," Ezra purred beside him.

Josiah swung down from his saddle and approached the man, arm extended to offer a friendly handshake.  The dog sat at his master's side.

"Henson," The rancher returned.  He was a ruddy man, with dark hair but light eyes.   He laid one big hand on the brown dog's head to keep it still. "George Henson."

"Yes, yes, of course," Josiah returned enthusiastically.  He took George's other hand and gave it a hearty shake, turning to Ezra who dismounted beside him.  "Ezra, this is George Henson."

"A pleasure to meet you, sir," Ezra said congenially and he grasped Chaucer's reins.

"What can I do for you?"  Henson glanced suspiciously between the two.  "From the looks of you, I figure I got some sort of trouble."

"Trouble?" Josiah echoed, his face falling.

Henson jerked his head toward Josiah.  "You look pleased as punch about something, and this other one," he nodded toward Ezra, "… looks about as trustworthy as a fox.  Figure I'm about to have the floor fall out from under me."

Ezra laughed as Josiah shook his head. "No, no…" Sanchez held up a hand and threw Ezra a disgruntled look as the gambler continued to chuckle.  "Look, I have an important matter… something I need to discuss with you."  He patted at his pockets until he found the South Bridge Sentinel and held it out to Henson.  "The boy!" Josiah uttered.

Henson grasped the paper, and a fond look crossed his face as he gazed upon the story, but when Henson lifted his head, Josiah was met with a stony expression.  "What do you want with Caleb?"

"Per!" Josiah corrected.  "His name is Per."

"Per?" George looked confused.

"That boy's my grandson," Josiah insisted.  "I've come to bring him home.  I've been wanting to find him."

Life seemed to leave George's face and his hands dropped to his side.  The sheet fluttered loose and was picked up in the slight breeze.  Neither Josiah nor George seemed to notice it.

Moments passed as George stared into nothingness.  He didn't seem to breathe.  Suddenly, Henson jerked and stiffly turned, loping toward the house.  "Jean!" he cried as he turned to the house, a note of hysteria catching his voice.  "Jean!"

Josiah followed Henson, eyes intent on the house.  The newspaper flipped about and Ezra took several strides to catch up with it, stepping on it to still its escape.  It flapped around his boot.  He picked it up and folded it carefully, watching as Josiah tailed Henson.  Henson shouted for his wife.  The dog lay down in the grass and rolled.

A door slammed open and a woman, tall and brunette, appeared at the back door.  "George?" she called.  "What is it?  What's wrong?"  Suspiciously, she eyed the strangers.

George came to her, grasping the porch railing and pulling himself up the steps to be nose-to-nose with his wife.  "Jean, this man… this man…" he made a loose gesture toward the preacher who shadowed him.

"Sanchez, Josiah Sanchez," Josiah supplied, snatching the hat from his head.

"This man," George stated and paused, "He's come for Caleb."

"Come for him?"

"To take him.  To take him away!"

"Why, no," Jean returned, trying to sound amused.  "You must have misunderstood him, George."

"He's Caleb's grandfather by blood.  He's come for him."

"No, George, no," Jean returned firmly.  She turned her hazel eyes on Josiah and stated, "He got it wrong, didn't he?"

Josiah shook his head.  "I believe that the boy is my grandson.  I've come for him."

Jean turned to her husband, seeing a lost and distraught expression.  Grimly, she set her mouth into a smile and said, "Well, why don't you come inside so that we can discuss this matter in more comfortable surroundings."  She looked beyond the two men at her porch to the one who stood alone.

George came into the house first, forgetting any rules of etiquette and clomped into the kitchen.  Jean stood back, allowing Josiah to enter and then waited for the other man to follow.  "Ezra Standish, ma'am," Ezra greeted, doffing his hat.  "I hope that we're not intruding."

"You've come to take our only son from us," Jean responded icily.  "I can't think of anything more intrusive."

Ezra returned the gruff statement with a sorry smile and followed Sanchez within.

After a quick brush at her apron, Jean Henson shut the door and turned to the three men in her kitchen.  Her husband looked the most awkward of the bunch.  Sanchez glanced about the room, as if he expected a child to appear out of thin air.  Standish looked calm, with his hands held behind his back, his expression mild.

"So," Jean started sharply, "What do you have to say."

"The child," Josiah started, patting at his pockets.  "The child that was found last year..." Aggravated, he rifled at his pockets until the object of his search suddenly appeared before his face.  He snatched the paper from Ezra's hand and held it out to Jean.  "That boy…"

Gently, Jean took the page from Josiah and turned it so that she could see it.  She kept her face still as she read the short article regarding the apple of her eye.  "Yes," she said softly.  "Yes, that's our Caleb.  He was abandoned, the poor little lamb.  So afraid, so alone."

"He couldn't even speak English!" George put in.  "Can you imagine that?  Poor little sprout, lost in the world with no one and nothing, and he can't even let people know what he wants!"

"We came for him," Jean continued.  "We heard about him and we dropped everything to come for him.  Laundry on the line and a pot of sweet potatoes cooking…" she trailed off, lost in the memory -- hurrying through the house, the scent of sweet potatoes as she pulled the unfinished pan from the fire, the way the door clapped shut, patting her hair, taking George's hand, linens lazily undulating in the breeze.

"As soon as we set eyes on him, he was our son," George said, taking up the tale.  "He was sitting with Father Gayle.  Sitting in that church, all quiet.  That's where he was found, at the church.  We fell in love with him.  We didn't care that he was a mestizo!" George put in.  "He was beautiful.  We took him in and gave him are name."  George stood, tall and firm.  "His parents didn't want him – but we did.  We took him in and made him our son.  I'd die for Caleb.  I'd do anything."  George turned, giving Ezra a sharp look.  "Are you the father?" he asked.  "Why else would you be here?"

Honestly stunned, Ezra gaped for a moment.  "Me?" he touched his chest.  "Why, no.  I'm only…"

"No!"  Josiah responded, lifting his hands and then dropping them in frustration.  "No, not him."  He sighed and pulled out a chair from the table.  He sat down and folded his hands.  George followed.  Jean looked to Ezra who nodded and gestured for her to proceed, and then they were all seated around the small kitchen table. 

"My son," Josiah started… "My son is Miguel…" He kept his head down, his hands clasped tight together.  "Miguel Josiah Garcia-Sanchez"

"Miguel Sanchez?  That man?"  George muttered. "That man who killed the sheriff and Mr. Watkins!"

Jean gasped and Josiah nodded.  Ezra sat back, watching.

"When my son escaped from your town," Josiah started, "He went in search of me.  I met up with him.  I saw his son."

"Caleb?" George said softly, lowering his voice to a whisper.  "Our Caleb is a son of that brute?"

"Hush! George!" Jean cut off her husband.

"That man who murdered those people?  Caleb is his son?"

"It makes no difference.  He's our child," Jean continued, turning to Josiah,   "I don't believe in bad blood.  Blood doesn't make a man good or bad.  It's how the child is raised.  It's whether he's truly loved and cared for."

George blinked, processing this new information.  He turned to Josiah and stated, "It don't make me love him any less."

Defiant, Jean crossed her arms over her chest.  "What makes you think our Caleb is that boy."

"Per," Josiah filled in. "His name is Per."

"All right then," Jean jutted out her chin as she went on, "What makes you think that your Per is our Caleb?"

"He was found at the right time.  The description fits.  The boy was of mixed race.  His grandmother was from Mexico.  His mother was Swedish.  It's what he spoke," Josiah finally lifted his eyes from hands and met Jean's eyes.

"Mr. Dudley thought maybe Caleb spoke German," George put in quickly, jabbing a finger at Josiah.  "German!  Not Swedish."

Josiah paused at this new bit of information while George looked victorious. "But others thought it was Swedish… or maybe something Scandinavian," Josiah commented softly and received a nod in response from Jean.

George looked distraught.  He stood quickly, and strode toward the door and then back to the table.  "He speaks English now," George whispered.

"Is he afraid of water?" Josiah asked.

George turned toward his wife and wrung his hands.  Jean pursed her lips and then answered brusquely,  "He doesn't like getting close to water if it's moving fast." 

"You see!" Josiah exclaimed.  "It must be Per!  He nearly drowned!"

The declaration only increased Jean's frown.  George's face grew red, and he cried, "He's our boy!"

"He's my grandson!" Josiah shot back.

"There are ties that go beyond blood," Jean responded.  "We've raised him as our own for a year.  He's ours."

Josiah turned to Ezra, demanding, "Who would the courts favor, Ezra?  A blood relative would gain custody!"

Ezra shrugged and said softly, "If such a relationship could be proven, I suppose that blood would win out.  I couldn't say for certain.  There are sometimes extenuating circumstances to consider.  We'd have to be dead certain on the child's origin," Ezra said, lifting his gaze to meet Josiah's before flitting away.  "Judge Travis might have to decide the matter."

"A judge?"  George questioned. "We'd need a judge?"

"We'd let the court decide," Josiah said firmly.  "Judge Travis would do what's right. He'd ensure that the law was followed. He's a grandfather who's helped raise a child.  He'll see that Per's given to the right man.   Justice will prevail!"

"Justice," George repeated woefully, looking pale.  Jean sat rigidly, as if she were facing the devil.

Josiah leaned forward, hopeful.  "Can I see him?  I would recognize him if I could just see him.  We could prove it right now."

Jean, her hard expression falling into something soft and sorrowful, nodded and turned away from the preacher.  A tear brimmed in one eye and she brought her cheek to her shoulder to wipe it away.  "I guess it was too perfect to last," she said softly.  "We should have known.  When we first got him, we kept thinking that someone would come to claim him in a day or two."  Jean stood, bracing herself on the table as if she hardly had the strength.  "I'll get him," she stated.  "He's napping.  He'll be quiet when he first wakes up.  He'll want to cling to me."  She smiled without any joy and turned her head again to hide her eyes.  She hurried away from the table, saying, "You can see him… see if he's the boy you're looking for."

George stepped toward his wife, as if he feared she might swoon, but she moved away as quickly as a frightened doe.  Henson snapped an angry gaze on Josiah, and a disgusted one on Standish before he paced away toward the window. "Our land…our home," he stated.  "This was nothing before.  But then Caleb came.  This is to be his heritage."    Pressing his forehead to the window, George muttered, "He's been everything to us.  Jean… my dearest Jean…" his voice fell to a harsh whisper.  "She can't… she can't have a baby.  We tried but…  She's so strong… but it nearly broke her.  So when Caleb appeared… it was as if he came straight from heaven."

Henson spoke to the glass, to the land that he owned beyond it, to the buildings that were to be manned by himself and his son, to the world he was losing.  "I forgot…" he sighed, clutching at the sill.  "I forgot that he wasn't my blood.  I forgot that someone might come and snatch him away from us.  It's not fair.  He's our son… our Caleb."

Josiah held up his hands, unable to remain unaffected by George's grief.  "But, he's my grandson…" Josiah said softly.  Sanchez glanced to Ezra, who watched George with wary eyes, who watched the land outside.

There was a quiet noise at one side of the room and Jean slowly moved in and George turned to watch her.

A beautiful boy clung to her, rubbing his eyes and hiding his face against her neck.  His skin was dark and his hair was light brown.  He yawned.  Per, Josiah thought, looking for familiar features in the boy who tried to hide against his mother.  Oh Per…it's him.  It's him!

Shyly, the boy looked over his arm at the strangers at the table.  He dug his feet closer to his mother and held on tightly.  A soft whimper escaped the boy, as he uttered, "Mama, I don't know them."

The statement broke Josiah's heart.  He stood quickly, and boomed, "Of course you know me, Per.  I'm your granddaddy, your faffa." 

Startled by the quick movement, the boy buried his face against his mother and wailed.

"Shhhh… shhh…." Jean cooed as she dipped and swayed with the boy clutched against her.  "It's okay, Caleb.  It's okay, Caleb." The name came out clipped and precise, as if she was making a show of using it.  "It's okay, my dear Caleb.  Mama's got you."

"He takes a while to wake up," George told them bluntly.  "Give him some space."

Jean sat down in her chair, looking as regal as a queen with the future king in her arms.  She continued to shush the child, holding him tightly.

Josiah wished he'd asked Ezra for some peppermints.  Ezra usually had a twist of paper containing a few of the candies.  A sweet would go far in gaining the child's attention.  Since Ezra didn't seem to be forking over any of Chaucer's bribes, Sanchez tried coaxing the boy softly, speaking quietly about how they had met and the time they'd spent together.  The boy kept crying , not wanting anything to do with the newcomers.

Ezra, watching the sniffling child, pulled a deck of cards from his waistcoat pocket and started shuffling.  The sharp snap of the cards stopped Josiah's discourse and brought a stillness to the room.  The child stopped bawling and turned his head to see.  Jean quit her cooing. George wrung his hands and watched Ezra's movements.  Josiah kept his eyes on the boy.

With a winning smile and florid movements, Ezra performed a card trick, showing the child an Ace of Spades, holding it aloft and then making it disappear with a snap, only to reappear in the cardsharp's pocket.  The boy's mouth opened in a little grin, and he finally unclasped his mother's neck to better view the show.

Another fancy shuffle and the Ace of Spades appeared at the top of the deck, and then the card was cut into the cards.  Shuffle and snap, and the Ace was back. Cut-shuffle-cut and shuffle.   Flip, and the cards all turned over, looking like a fan.  A little flip and they all went back, leaving the Ace behind.  "You may now offer applause," Ezra told the child sincerely.  The tot clapped and Ezra grinned.

Now that the atmosphere of the room had calmed, Josiah softly, "I'd like to take the child with me, just for tonight."

"NO!" Jean vehemently declared, clasping the boy tightly.  "You said we'd have a judge to make the decision."

Josiah held out his arms, as if he might encompass the child.  "I would stay in South Bridge."

"It would be too easy for you to run off with him.  And we'd never see him again," George argued.

Josiah pleaded, "I've been dreaming of having him with me ever since I first set eyes on him."

"Same with us," Jean said and kissed the boy's head.  The child smiled at his mother.  "Ever since we heard of him, we wanted him to be our child."  Her eyes were moist, but her face was set and firm.  "We went for him.  We took him home as ours.  I promised him that he'd be ours forever."  And her voice broke – a little.

The boy in Jean's lap twisted toward her, querying, "Mama?  Mama?  Don't cry, Mama," And the woman started to cry in earnest.

"Mr. Sanchez," Ezra said formally as he flipped his deck into his waistcoat pocket.  "Perhaps you would grant me a private audience."

"Huh?" Josiah watched as the boy gave all his attention to his mother.

The child put one hand on each side of his mother's face and said encouragingly, "Don't cry, Mama.  Be happy, okay, Mama?"  George reached to Jean, laying a comforting hand over her arm.

"Josiah, come with me," Ezra insisted. When Josiah still looked hesitant, Ezra sighed and added, "They aren't going anywhere.  Come.  It's time we took a walk to clear our heads."

From somewhere in the house, a clock chimed prettily, playing a little song that Josiah could almost recognize.

"Josiah!" With that sharp command, Josiah finally stood, his eyes still on the boy.  He didn't see Ezra move to the door, but he heard it open.  "It's time!" Ezra called, steel reaching his voice as the clock finished with a fancy fanfare.  Shaking off his daze, Josiah stumbled toward Ezra.  He met Ezra's fierce gaze before he moved through the doorway – feeling like a child rebuked.

Ezra remained in the room a moment longer, gazing at the distraught family.  George had his arm around his wife's shoulder as she quietly cried and the babe in her arms looked confused.

Ezra stepped after Josiah, letting the door shut softly.

"Ezra," Josiah said sharply as the conman stepped down from the porch.  "That's my boy!  That's Per!  I'm not leaving without him!"

Ezra made a gesture, commanding Josiah to follow him as he stalked away from the house, heading toward the barn.

"Ezra!" Josiah called, but Ezra didn't slow, and Sanchez had to hurry to keep up.  Angrily, Josiah followed, finally catching up to Ezra as they rounded the corner of the outbuilding.  Near a pile of crates, Josiah latched onto Ezra's shoulder, and spun the gambler toward him.  He was met again with a sharp glare.   "Ezra, I will not leave my boy…"

"It's not him!" Ezra declared.  "That boy is not Per!"

"It is!"  Josiah yelled back. "It's my grandson and I'll have him!  I won't make the same mistakes I did last time.  This time I'll take him with me.  This time, I'll raise him myself.  If I had just done the same for Miguel, he would have been a good man."

"The Hensons will raise that boy to be a good man."

"Do you think they'll do better than his grandfather?"

"That child is not Per," Ezra repeated.

"I think I would know my own blood!" Josiah shouted.

"Josiah, Per doesn't look like the child we saw."

"He does!"  Josiah squinted, trying to clearly recall an image of Per.  "We just didn't get a good enough look at him here.  If that woman would have just handed him to me, I would have been able to see him clearly.  YOU would have seen him clearly."

"It's not Per."

"A mestizo child who speaks Swedish?  How could it not be him?"

"But it would be too perfect," Ezra said with a sigh, "Like a children's bedtime tale." With a sorry shake of his head, Ezra added, "Things are never that easy."

"It could be true!"  Josiah replied.  "It could work out for me!  Who else could that child be?  It has to be Per!"

"There are plenty of mixed-blood children in this country," Ezra responded.  "And the Henson's are not even certain of the language he spoke."

"They were just making excuses, trying to make me doubt what I know.   He's afraid of water!"

"Most toddlers, I'd think, don't like being in fast moving water.  Josiah, can you tell me for certain, with no doubts whatsoever, that this child is the son of your son?"

"It's him, I know it!  I feel it!"  Josiah clenched his hands, wishing he could express the deep-down certainty.

"Do you know it well enough to rip that child from his mother's arms?  Are you that sure?"  Ezra's voice became low and measured.

"It's Per.  It has to be."

"It isn't!" Ezra sighed and looked away.  "Listen to me, Josiah.  It's not him.  I've trained my whole life to be observant. I paid close attention to Per Garcia.  Caleb Henson is not that child."

Josiah's face fell.  "How… how can you be sure?"

Ezra waved a hand near his head.  "My senses are not clouded as yours.  You want him to be Per.  You want it so badly that you didn't even notice that it was another child altogether.  You saw similarities where none existed."  Ezra looked apologetic as he continued.  "This child's face is narrower, his ears stick out farther, and his eyes are darker."  Ezra shrugged.  "It's a different child, Josiah."

"Babies change as they age…" Josiah tried.

"And what about Per's mother, Kerstin?"  Ezra added.  "Do you think that woman would have left the child behind?  Would she have brought Per to the town where his father committed a horrible crime?  Do you think that Kerstin would have abandoned Per any sooner than Jean would divest herself of Caleb?"

Josiah stilled, remembering Kerstin and her fierceness. "A mother would never leave her own child with strangers," Sanchez said with a sigh.

Ezra nodded, taking a moment before he could continue.  "These adopted parents are a blessing to the boy.  Sometimes, the best thing one can do for a child is to leave him with someone who would love him and care for him."

They stood silently for a moment, the breeze flowing against them.  Finally, Ezra met Josiah's gaze and said distinctly, "That child isn't isn't Per.  I'd stake my life on it."

Josiah's strength seemed to leave him as he collapsed to the crates.  He sat, roughly, and stared out into space.  "I wanted it to be true," the preacher whispered.  "I wanted it so badly."

"I know," Ezra said, turning away to stare at some point in space.

"I would have been a good grandfather to him," Josiah continued.

Ezra responded, "You would have been outstanding."

"Grandfathers are important," Josiah continued, saying the words to himself mostly.

"They are," Ezra agreed. "Sometimes they're the only kin worth aspiring to."

Chagrinned, Josiah turned in the direction of the house and sighed.  "I suppose they should be told the good news – that the child is still theirs."

Ezra nodded and stepped back, letting Josiah heave himself to his feet.  As they started toward the house, Josiah said softly, "I have to do this on my own."  He didn't look at Ezra, never saw if he nodded.  He only knew that Ezra was no longer at his elbow.

Slowly, Josiah walked toward the ranch house and knocked lightly on the door.  It swung open to his touch, revealing the three occupants – a husband – a wife – and a child.

Josiah stood in the doorway as the faces turned toward him – one frightened, one defiant and another who no longer looked so familiar.


Josiah had a terribly feeling of loneliness as he followed the trail to Four Corners.  He'd planned to make this ride with his grandson in the saddle with him, and Ezra at his side.  Instead, he rode alone.

Sanchez had started the morning late, sleeping in, figuring that Ezra wouldn't be awake before noon.  When Josiah finally rose from his bed, he found a note shoved under his door from Standish, stating that the gambler had taken an early start on the day.

The preacher sighed, recalling the conclusion of the note:  "I believe you might want some time alone to digest the happenings of yesterday.  I don't wish my presence to be a burden to you.  I shall see you in Four Corners.  Faithfully yours, Ezra P. Standish."

Josiah had shaken his head, wondering why Ezra always made things so difficult.  Why didn't Standish just hang around town for a few hours?  What would that have hurt?  Of course, Sanchez realized, he, himself, hadn't done anything to ease the situation.  He hadn't said a word to Ezra on their return trip from the Hensons to South Bridge.

After seeing the boy one last time, finally convincing himself that he had been wrong, Josiah had bid his goodbyes and had left the Hensons as a family.  On the ride to town, Josiah Sanchez saw no need for conversation.  Ezra had prattled on about all manner of inconsequential things, ignoring any signs that Sanchez gave off – signs that called for silence, for solemn reflection, for grief.

All the time Josiah wanted to mourn, Ezra's incessant nattering kept bringing him back to reality.

Then, upon reaching South Bridge, Josiah had immediately locked himself in a hotel room, without even acknowledging Standish.

Damn fool behavior, Josiah realized.  He hoped Ezra understood – after all, Josiah had just lost the grandson he'd dreamed of finding.  He was glad Ezra had been at the Henson's home, to point out the truth of the matter – Ezra had opened his eyes.

So he traveled to Four Corners alone.  The journey was long and quiet, and Josiah came across no other travelers.  He'd kept silent the day before when he'd had able company at his side, yet today, when he wanted someone to talk to – he was alone.  Alone again on the trail that ran between South Bridge and Four Corners – two men alone on the same trail.

Josiah traveled through the hot weather, resting from time to time in the shade of the sparse trees, knowing the dangers of too much sun.   It made the trip longer – it drew out the silence.  He hoped Ezra rested – the fool could be so stubborn sometimes.

Josiah had been lonely for a big part of his life, lonely for a family, for a solid life.  In his childhood, he'd had a family, but he'd left it when it became 'difficult'.  Then he'd found his son…and left him as well, because staying wouldn't have been easy.  This time Josiah was ready.  If the boy had been his grandson, Sanchez would have grabbed hold and never let go.  He would've had a real family – stability.

But that was gone – that life had slipped through his fingers. The boy wasn't Per.  It was for the best, really, Josiah thought.   I don't want to imagine how the child would have cried if I'd taken him from his adopted parents.  I don't want to imagine the grief I would have foisted upon those poor people – over a child that wasn't my own.

Yes, he thought.  It's good.  It's for the best.  A family should stay a family.  No one should bust it apart. A child needs something solid to stand on, a good start to life.

Then he thought of his life in Four Corners and he figured that, maybe, he already had a family – of sorts.  They were a strange group: Chris -- just starting to shake off the black cape of grief; Vin– the quiet and ruthless tracker; Buck – affable and fiercely loyal, everyone's friend; JD – the kid who was quickly becoming an exceptional man; Nathan – able to put aside his horrifying past to become the compassionate healer; and Ezra – well, what could he say about Ezra?

Ezra's got a dozen bad qualities – things no man would be proud of, yet he seems to bask in the glory of his failings.  He's got a lot of goodness in him though – not that he'd let anyone know that.  Idiot would prefer that everyone think he's a bastard.  Can never understand him.

Wish I had the chance to apologize to him.  Wish I could thank him for doing the right thing – in spite of how hard it was.  Wish Ezra had waited for me.  Wish he didn't think he had to go on alone because I wouldn't have him.  Wish I hadn't led him to believe that. 

So Josiah traveled onward, thinking of lost children and lost souls.  As he approached the waterhole, his planned stop for the night, he smiled widely, a weight lifting from him as he saw the smoke of a fire and a pair of horses.  A red jacket caught his eye and he raised a hand and shouted a hello, feeling better than he had all day. 

Ah, Ezra, he thought, I knew I could count on you.


Ezra turned sharply as a voice came out of nowhere.  His eyes fastened on the approaching shape and raised a hand in greeting.  He waited until he was sure that Josiah had seen him, before he turned back to the fire. 

Finally, he thought, throwing in another stick, and then squatted down to check his pot -- a bubbling stew made from the potatoes and carrots he'd purchased in South Bridge, and the rabbit he'd shot earlier that evening.   Josiah would be there in a few minutes.  Ezra figured that he'd be hungry.

Standish smiled wryly, thinking that Vin might be hungry, too.  If Tanner had packed a picnic of potatoes and broccoli for Miss Heather, there'd be hell to pay.  That woman would rip the poor tracker to shreds for serving her that diet.  He chuckled, recalling that Miss Heather had decided opinions against potatoes… and didn't take to a diet of too much broccoli.

Ezra watched as the horse amble toward him, hoping that Josiah would consider staying with him for the night.  It would make sense anyway.  There was safety in numbers.  Josiah could continue on his own, come morning.  Ezra couldn't fault him for that.

The man needs his space, Ezra decided as he placed the coffee kettle on the fire.  After all, Josiah had to leave a dream behind.  He could have been a wonderful grandfather, given the chance.  Ezra's hand reached into his waistcoat pocket and touched the pocket watch nestled there.  He rubbed its smooth surface thoughtfully, feeling it thrum in his fingers.

He recalled the child they'd found at the Henson's, the sweet little boy.  Wouldn't it have been nice to have the child in Four Corners?  Imagine, watching the boy grow! And Josiah would dote on the lad, give him a good home, give him everything.  Ezra smiled, imagining how good it would be for the preacher. 

Josiah deserves that life, Ezra thought.  Deserves a good family.

As Josiah drew closer, Ezra released his hold on the watch and pulled his hand from his pocket.  He stepped out from the cover of the trees.  It was all for the best, wasn't it? 

Standish smiled pleasantly, considering how Josiah would react if he'd known about the lie.  He'd probably cleave my head clean off my shoulders, Ezra decided.  And turn the rest of me to paste.  Ah yes, Josiah was correct after all in his assessment of me, Ezra realized. He knew exactly what to expect. I am that disparager, ripping the rug out from under him

For Ezra hadn't been sure about the child – he'd been far from sure.  Was it little Per in the Hensons's home?  Could Josiah's grandson have ended up under that roof?  Could that boy be the same child that Ezra had held so close in that frigid river?  Possibly.

The boy's face had familiar aspects… those eyes, that nose, the shape of his cheeks… were they a match to Per… a facsimile of Josiah… or Miguel… or Kerstin.  Possibly.  Was this the same child, a year older?  Maybe.

If Ezra had been certain that the child was a Sanchez, he would have fought alongside Josiah for custody.  He would have done anything he could, would have helped Josiah raise the child if he were allowed.  Josiah might have allowed him to play Uncle to the boy. It would have been… good.  But Ezra had been uncertain.

Uncertainty made things worse.  It muddied things.  Uncertainty would lead to horrible fights, good people acting like imbeciles, children being hurt in the process.  For years, the boy might have been caught up in it, like a newspaper caught in the breeze, nothing solid beneath him.

Certainty was better – even if it based on a lie.  Caleb belonged with a stable family – not with uncertainty.

Once Josiah was nearly upon him, Ezra noted the preacher's tired smile.  Sanchez opened his mouth to speak… to greet him… to apologize maybe. 

And Ezra waited, ready to brush off any apologies offered – he certainly didn't deserve it.  He felt the horrible weight of his lie, knowing that, if discovered, he'd ruined everything that was good in his life. 

He hoped he'd chosen well, if not for Josiah – then for the boy.


Next South Bridge story?  Someone's Lifesavings

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