Disclaimer: I do not own the "Magnificent Seven". The Mirisch Group does.
The day had actually begun nicely, with the hint of a southern breeze, and there were a few white clouds in the desert sky, a sure sign of good weather. It couldn't last. A man in a red jacket walked nervously into the red painted saloon. It was obvious to any and all that he was upset.
"I have a slight problem, gentlemen," Ezra drawled uncomfortably as he stood over the bar table, looking down at his two friends.
Chris glared at him warily. "What's this *little problem* as you so put it?"
Ezra bit his lip. How to tell them? "Well, you see, my mother has gotten into a lick of trouble over in New Orleans. Now, I have found out that I'm the only relative even half willing to effect her emancipation. Therefore, I will have to take my leave of you shortly to fulfill a son's duty."
Josiah lifted his head. "Well, Ezra, I'd be glad to help you out. But what's this about only being *half-willing* to help your mother out?"
Ezra shook his head. "You must understand, Josiah, that my mother is not one to stay out of trouble for any length of time. Do you know why she came six months ago to visit?" Josiah shook his head. "She was being investigated for theft by the local authorities, that's why."
Chris sat quietly, thinking silently. "What's she in trouble for?" he questioned.
"For once, she was not the perpetrator in the escapade," Ezra began. Chris snorted. He earned a glare from the sea green eyes of the man standing in front of him. "Mr. Larabee, I know my own mother better than any of you here, and I can tell you what she will do. She will cheat, lie, deceive, con, and charm her way out of any given situation. But she will most definitely not steal to do it."
"But you will. So what makes you think Maude won't?" Chris asked, forever cynical.
Ezra smiled grimly. "I did not rob the bank, Mr. Larabee. I was only the lookout. And anyway, she's too set in her ways to try anything out of the ordinary, that's why."
Chris still looked as though he had a hard time believing him, but Josiah spoke up. "Ezra, I believe you. Let me tell you, I'll do whatever I can to help your mother out."
Ezra nodded his thanks and turned to leave. As he strode out the door, he pondered with mixed feelings on the situation. "I know he wants to help, but what are his true intentions?" He only too well remembered when Josiah and Maude had met. Josiah had seemed very taken with his mother, something that Ezra wasn't worried about. What bothered him was that Maude had seemed equally taken with Josiah. She had only given him the brush off because of his financial situation. But what if she actually took time to talk to him and like him? The thought made him shudder. "Not in a million years."
"Well, Ezra, I suppose it's time to leave," Josiah commented as they watched the red and gold stage pull up in front of the hotel.
Ezra grunted and sipped at his coffee. The day had only dawned an hour earlier and he was most definitely not a morning person.
Josiah grinned at his discomfort. "Come on, boy, we've gotta rescue your mother."
Josiah laughed and stood. "Well, I reckon we'd best be going. And I am, with or without you." He picked up his bag and walked across the street to the stage. Ezra watched him throw it to the driver, who in turn deposited it upon the other luggage on the roof of the stage.
Ezra sighed and stood. He picked up his leather case and walked across as well. It wasn't genuine French leather, but it was pretty damn close. It had been made by a Parisian in New Orleans about five years before.
It took only a moment for the bags to be strapped in, and by that time, both Ezra and Josiah were seated inside the stage.
"It's a shame that Chris and the others weren't able to come," Josiah commented. "I think JD might have enjoyed this trip quite well."
Ezra snorted. "Well, I for one am perfectly happy that Mr. Larabee didn't decide to join us."
Josiah turned to him. "You know something, Ezra?" He asked, gazing thoughtfully at him. Ezra raised an eyebrow. "You're a old cynic ."
Ezra grinned. "No, Josiah, a young cynic and don't you forget it either." So saying, he pulled his hat down over his eyes, determined to ride at least a portion of the day out in quiet sleep.
Eagle Bend, a man and woman boarded the coach. Josiah, being the only one awake, scrutinized the two. It was apparent that they were twins, both having light brown hair and blue eyes with similar facial features. Josiah nodded to the woman and grasped her hand to help her inside.
"Thank you, sir," she said a bit breathlessly as she took her seat. She waited for her brother and relaxed in her seat when he was safely aboard. In a few moments, the coach began to roll and they were all jolted by the harsh movement. Ezra muttered under his breath, having been woken up, but refused to open his eyes.
The young man leaned a little to look at him. "Pardon me for being forward, but who are you both?"
Josiah smiled. "My name is Josiah Sanchez and this ornery fellow is Ezra Standish. Ignore him, he hates waking up this early."
The man grinned a little as well. "I sympathize. I'm Will Sanders and this is my sister, Lily." Lily nodded at him and gave him a small smile before sighing and settling back in her seat as well.
Josiah, not willing to be up without some talk, struck up a conversation. "Where are you headed?" he inquired.
"New Orleans. We came out here looking for a change after our parents died, but that change wasn't here. No, we're city folks, always will be. It's best that we stay there instead of out in the desert."
Josiah nodded. "I understand, though I'm the opposite. I moved to the city, decided it wasn't for me, and came here. I've loved it ever since."
Will nodded thoughtfully. He glanced at his sister who sat dozing beside him. "I think my sister and your friend are two of a kind." He glanced at Ezra. "Or is he your son? I'm sorry, I can't really tell."
Josiah looked up, a bit surprised. He glanced at Ezra. "We could almost pass for father and son," he thought. He grinned to himself. "I wonder what Ezra would say if he heard that." He turned his eyes back to Will and shook his head. "No, we're not related. His mother has unfortunately gotten into some trouble so we're headed to New Orleans to help out."
Will's face lit up. "Law trouble?" Josiah nodded. "I'm a lawyer, believe it or not. Since we're headed to the same place, perhaps I can lend a hand."
"That would be a big help. I'm sure he'd appreciate it if he wanted to wake up enough to say thank you." Josiah shook his head at Ezra's still form, tempted to kick him.
Will, seeming to read his mind, said, "No, don't wake him. He can thank me later. I've been around my sister enough to know how some people are when they don't get their rest." He shuddered a little in mock fear, then laughed. Josiah did as well.
"Right you are, my friend," he admonished. They both leaned back for the time being, the conversation having ended in companionable silence.
Ezra woke up as they stopped at Indian Gap. As the stage jolted to another jerky stop, he opened his eyes. He had dozed all day, night was falling. He realized why; he had been so upset about his mother that he had not slept the night before. Josiah had apparently realized it as well and left him alone.
He sat up, smoothing the black vest under the green jacket. His emerald eyes surveyed what was around him. The first thing he noticed other than Josiah was the addition of passengers. He felt his attention drawn to the young woman sitting in front of him. He noticed her brother as well, keen eyes having made the deduction quickly. He decided it was time to speak.
"I do apologize for dozing." He spoke much more softly than he normally did.
Josiah shot him a worried look. It was evident that the younger man was exhausted. He didn't blame him, though. When Ezra turned to face him, he saw the beginnings of circles under his eyes. Staying quiet, though, he did not mention it, instead introducing the passengers.
"Ezra Standish, this is Will Sanders and his sister, Lily Sanders." Ezra met their eyes in turn, giving each a nod.
The stage door opened suddenly and a man leaned in. "This is your evening stop, ladies and gents. Get off or sleep in the wagon." He jumped down as unceremoniously as he had popped in and climbed up to unload some of the baggage.
Ezra raised a cynical eyebrow. "Charming man," he muttered, waiting until the others had exited before stepping out himself.
"Very," agreed a feminine voice to his left. He turned slightly and grinned. Lily, looking as dusty and tired as he did, smiled back.
"It's nice to know someone shares my sentiments," he drawled, laying his accent on a little thick.
Lily wasted no time. "It's so rare to be in the company of such gentlemen as yourself, Mr. Standish, for I can tell that you are a gentleman. Where are you from exactly?"
"Alabama, originally. I've lived in Wilmington, North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia and New Orleans as well, to name a few places." He surprised himself. He rarely opened up even this little to complete strangers. But her smile was so disarming that he couldn't help it.
"You must have, your accent is a definite mix. Myself, I'm from New Orleans, though I haven't the accent to show it. I've traveled a bit, Europe some, and a bit in Canada. I'm looking forward to going home, though."
"I'm sure you are. Tell me, how did a lady such as yourself end up in Texas?" He was a bit confused, not just fishing for questions.
She sighed. "When our parents died, Will had just graduated from law school. He wanted to move west, to help poor men and women who couldn't afford the luxury of an out of state lawyer and who didn't want to be hanged without proper trial. I didn't know what to do with my life, so I followed him. I didn't work out."
Ezra nodded sympathetically. They had stopped outside the white clapboard house that housed weary travelers, and they were all ready for a hot meal. Josiah poked his head out at the two. "Ezra, you coming?"
Ezra nodded and on a whim, picked a wild daisy growing in the yard. He held it out to Lily and asked, "Miss Sanders, would you permit me?"
Lily looked at him coolly and said, "I don't usually."
He gazed at her equally coolly, but his voice was playful. "I don't usually ask."
She quirked a half smile. "Only if you call me Lily. I can't stand the formality."
Ezra nodded, refusing the satisfaction of a grin. "Then you must do the same for me as well, Lily." So saying, he gently pinned the flower to her lapel and held out an arm. "Shall we?"
She gazed at his arm for a moment and burst out laughing. "Oh, it's so good to be able to talk to someone like you, Ezra!" He smiled at her enthusiasm and she took his arm. Together, they walked inside.
They were quiet over dinner, no one speaking except to voice a hushed thank you to their hostess for the evening, Mrs. Davenport. By the end of the meal, all of their eyes were drooping and Mrs. Davenport finally ordered them off to bed.
As they were leaving, Josiah walked over to Ezra. "You're really falling for her, aren't you?"
Ezra gave him a cool look, but didn't bother denying it. "Well, she's a beautiful woman," he began. "Who wouldn't?"
Josiah snorted to himself. "Uh-huh."
Ezra bristled inwardly. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You make it sound like any man would be falling head over heels for her, so you're not going to get into anything. Grow up, son. She's special. Remember that." Josiah expected Ezra to let the matter go, but instead, he got an earful, in the short-worded way.
"Josiah, there's one thing you need to remember." His voice was not the soft, flowing one it normally was. It was cold and hard and Josiah shivered. "I am not, nor will I ever be your son." He whirled on his heel and stalked off toward their room for the night.
Josiah stood confused, until he realized what he had just done. "Ezra never knew his father," he groaned. Then he sighed in resignation and walked slowly behind him.
It was much too early for Lily or Ezra as they again boarded the stage that would take them to the train station. Ezra had shoved himself as far away from Josiah as he could, and slouched with his arms folded across his chest, tight-lipped and glaring. Lily wasn't in any better mood, and they were both affecting the sunny day.
A black cloud seemed to have been cast over the quartet as they boarded the locomotive headed for New Orleans. Though they had been assigned seats, the train was barely full and Ezra moved as far away from the rest of them as he could get. Will noticed and when Lily had fallen asleep, he moved casually over to Josiah.
"What's wrong with your friend, there?" he asked, concern lacing his voice.
Josiah sighed, not willing to tell him yet. "I said something last night that I shouldn't have," he admitted, glancing with gray eyes toward the younger man.
Will cocked his head but didn't press. "Fine. I just hope that it doesn't affect any long term relationships, if you know what I mean." He motioned quietly toward his younger sister.
Josiah sat up straighter. "What do you mean?"
Will grinned. "It's obvious they're taken with each other." His face clouded just as quickly. "I would hate to see her hurt, though. She's had enough of that, what with our parents and all."
Josiah nodded sympathetically. "I understand. I'll try to rectify the situation when we stop sometime."
"Good man." Will winked at him, then moved back to his seat.
Josiah grinned a little to himself and settled back, wanting for the miserable journey to be over with.
When the train finally rattled to a stop in New Orleans, all passengers were exhausted. Ezra stepped off first and looked around at what once had been his home. A wry smile came to his face as he thought of a few relatives that he'd just as soon not come in contact with.
Josiah stared at the man's back as he carefully stepped down off the train, minding his leg which was still a bit stiff, even though it had healed nicely after being shot. He walked up to Ezra and tapped his shoulder. "Ezra?"
Ezra turned to look at him, much calmer than he had been the previous night. The street lamps cast a greenish light on his face, but he smiled at Josiah. "Yes?" He didn't bother to apologize. They both knew he had too much pride for that at the moment.
"I think we need to find some rooms. You got somewhere to stay?"
Ezra thought a moment. At this time of year, Mardis Gras would be in full swing soon. He knew that most of the hotels in walking distance would be full up. That only left one possibility. It was one that he really didn't want to consider. He sighed. "Unfortunately."
Josiah started. "What do you mean?"
"Mardis Gras is here. There are no hotels with vacancies. I have some cousins with plenty of room. That's why I say unfortunately."
"Explain," Josiah said shortly.
"When I visited them several years ago, I wasn't very welcome." He didn't bother to elaborate. "But my younger cousin was quite taken with me and she's inherited the place so I think she may put us up for awhile."
"Oh, well, as long as they don't shoot you for being related. What did you do, swindle them outta everything?"
"Hardly. Mother did. I merely stayed with them." He didn't smile, though, and Josiah knew that he didn't want to discuss it."
Josiah instead turned to Will, who was helping Lily with their luggage. "We've got a place to stay, perhaps we should meet for breakfast tomorrow."
Will nodded. "Ezra, I'm sure you know where the Bonjour Restaurant is on the French Quarter?" Ezra nodded. "Let's meet there about eight tomorrow and go on to the jail afterward."
"All right," Josiah agreed. "Have a good night." He looked at his watch. Seven thirty. "Let's go, Ezra." Ezra grasped his bag, as did Josiah, and they began to walk.
It took only about ten minutes to reach the house. It was stately and grand, going up three stories and extending back quite a bit. It was painted white and had had three Grecian columns on the front. The front door was solid oak and heavy. There were windows three wide on each story. Josiah was impressed.
Ezra hesitated only a moment before ringing the bell. A few moments later, the door was opened a crack and a shotgun barrel poked at them. Ezra jumped.
An Irish voice asked "Who's there?"
"I'll tell you if you take the damn shotgun out of my face, Tara," Ezra said patiently.
"It's Mardis Gras, sir, I'll sure not take it outta yer face. I'm liable ta be robbed if'n I do."
"Tara O'Connor, take the gun away," he said.
"Like Ah said, sir, who are ye?"
Ezra sighed. "Stubborn little-it's Ezra Standish."
"You may say you're him, but how do I know it's you?"
"Siubhail, siubhail, ruin, who else could it be?"
Josiah watched in fascination as the barrel was taken out of the doorway and the door was flung open a moment later. "Ezra!" the woman cried happily.
She was about thirty, but the years had been kind. Her reddish brown hair waved lightly around her face and her blue eyes were alight with happiness. The only lines he could see were laugh lines around her eyes. It was obvious she was thrilled to see her cousin.
"Come in, come in, you two, you must be starvin'!" Her brogue was heavy with excitement and Ezra grinned at her.
"Tara, slow down, dear," he laughed. "Let us get inside."
She moved back and allowed them to enter the foyer, a tastefully decorated room of greens and cream. The wooden staircase ran up both stories and the floors were covered with ornate rugs. Josiah looked at the walls. There was only one picture in the foyer, and it wasn't really a picture. It was a large version of an Irish benediction. Upon closer inspection, he saw that it was done in needlepoint. He read it silently.
"May God sleep
on your pillow
May he hold you in the
hollow of his hand
May the roads rise with you
Fair weather to your heels
May the wind be ever
at your back…
And may you be,
a long time in heaven
Before the Devil
knows you're gone…"
Ezra noticed him looking. "Beautiful, isn't it?" It was a simple statement, said quietly, rhetorical. Josiah nodded anyway.
"Mah goodness, ye haven't intraduced me to yer friend, Ezra," Tara said pleasantly.
"Yes, Tara, this is Josiah Sanchez. Josiah, Tara O'Connor, my cousin." He turned to Tara. "Is John still here?"
She looked at him hesitantly. "Aye, and ye best stay clear o' him fer now, dear. He'll not take kindly to ye bein' here, ye know."
Ezra nodded. "I wouldn't be here unless it was important, you know." Tara nodded. "You see, my dear, mother's in trouble again. I just need to stay here until the situation can be cleared up."
Tara nodded knowingly and Josiah frowned, thinking of something. "Ezra, what did you say to Mrs. O'Connor there when we came up?" He turned to Tara. "It is Missus, isn't it?" She nodded happily.
Ezra grinned. "I said Siubhail, siubhail, ruin. It means 'Come, come, love.' It's Gaelic. Old Irish. I understand more of it than I speak, though. Much more." He laughed.
Josiah smiled. "What can you say in it?" They had moved into the sitting room as he was speaking. Ezra shot him a look. Josiah held up his hands, grinning. "Sorry, just curious."
Tara lifted her chin defiantly at Ezra. "He can say more than that, I assure you sir. Go on, Ezra, say something fer Mr. Sanchez there. Start with the poem."
Ezra rolled his eyes, "All right. This is part of 'Shule Aroon.'" He frowned a bit, as if trying to remember the foreign words.
"Siubhail, siubhail, siubhail, a ruin!
Siubhail go socair, agus siubhail go ciuin,
Siubhail go d-ti an doras agus eulaigh lion,
Is go d-teidh tu, a mhurin, slan!"
He stopped and looked at Josiah, who was grinning. "It sounds interesting, doesn't it? It's the accent, I'm sure." He stalked past them into the living room.
Josiah turned to Tara, who was on the verge of laughter as well. "Why did it sound so funny?"
Tara smirked. "A man with a southern accent is no good a'tall at tryin' to speak old Gaelic. It was a good try, though."
"What's it mean?"
"Come, come, come, o love!
Quickly come to me, softly move
Come to the door, and away we'll flee
And safe for aye may my darling be!"
Josiah smiled at her. "Who is John anyway?"
She sighed. "John's me husband. He was stayin' here as an apprentice to me father when Ezra came ta live with us twenty years ago, when he was twelve. I was ten and John was fifteen. He took a dislike to Ezra and they got into quite a few scrapes, mind ye. They never could get along. When his ma took me da's money, John went a bit crazy. He chased Ezra out of the house. Lucky fer him, me ma was there. She took Ezra to his ma and they left."
Josiah nodded. She suddenly laughed. "Look at me! Standin' here jabberin' while ye don't even have a place ta sleep! Come this way." She led him up the stairs, where Ezra had already disappeared up.
When they stepped into one of the guest rooms, Josiah got an idea of how wealthy the family was. The bed was solid mahogany and there was a matching bureau and mirror across the room. The window was ornate, with clear glass in an oval shape. He set his bag down. "Where's Ezra?"
"I expect he's in his old room. It's just down the hall thar." She pointed to a room two down to the left. "That was his. It's about the same as yours. Now ye just unpack and I'll fix ye both somethin' ta eat."
She turned and walked down the stairs. Josiah spent a few moments unpacking his clothes and arranging them in the bureau. Then he walked out of his room to Ezra's.
Ezra looked up from his place on the bed when the knock came. "Come in," he called. Josiah stepped inside and saw him lying on the bed, feet crossed, hat over his forehead, shading his eyes. "Yes?"
"Tara said that she'd fix us some food. You coming?"
"Of course, just a moment." He stood, tossing his green jacket on a stiff-backed wooden chair in the corner. He walked out first and Josiah followed.
"What part of Ireland is your family from, Ezra?" Josiah asked. "And by the way, how are you related to them? They can't be first cousins."
Ezra snorted. "You're right about that, Josiah. They're not related to my mother, they're my father's cousins. Which makes Tara my third cousin." He paused. "They're from Donegal, near Northern Ireland."
Josiah didn't ask anything else and together, they went down to supper.
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