Let Us Give Thanks
The winter was going to be bad, from Chris's point of view. The weather was already getting miserable, water and mud everywhere and a bitterly cold wind was appearing more often than not. The lack of rain over the summer had caused a severe drought for the farmers and ranchers in the surrounding areas around Four Corners. Cattle profits had been at an all time low, so many of the residents wouldn't be able to afford a great deal of food to supplement their meager household gardens. Josiah had been working hard the last few weeks, attempting to help those who had been the hardest hit. From what Nathan had said, the local Indian villages would be suffering due to a lack of huntable meat. Some of the villages moved farther south following the few herds of buffalo left, but one Cheyenne village not to far to the west was not going to be able to leave due to other mitigating circumstances.
Chris pulled the collar of his black duster more closely around his face and headed down the soggy street to the saloon. Ezra was entertaining a couple of the more foolish patrons at his regular table. You would have thought that Ezra's reputation would have spread to other parts but he never seemed to lack for suckers to play him. Only if very inebriated or very bored, would Chris ever think to even play Ezra in poker. The ability that Ezra had, even without cheating, which he rarely ever did anymore, was phenomenal. Ezra gave a perfunctory nod to Chris's presence, then returned his attention back to the game.
Vin was sitting at another table with Josiah and Nathan, and seeing Chris making his way over the table, he pushed an empty chair out with one booted foot. Chris accepted the proffered chair and sat down, pouring a shot of whiskey into a empty glass. Josiah regarded him silently and Nathan went on telling a story about his most recent visit to the Seminole village. Buck was standing not to far off, flirting with one of the saloon's newest barmaids. Chris rolled his eyes and turned back to listen to Nathan. "So any signs of clearing up outside?," Vin inquired in Chris's general direction.
"Naw, it looks like it's gettin' worse," Chris stated. Then to Josiah, "How many people are goin' to be hard up for food this winter, preacher?"
Josiah shook his head somberly. "Too many, brother. Kinda hard to tell now though, don't know how long the winter'll last."
JD burst through the doors of the saloon with his usually effusive nature, waved hi to Buck and came over to where the four were seated. "Hey, what are you guys doin' for Thanksgiving? It's right around the corner, ya know. Man, this is my first time not being home for the holidays."
"It's just any other day for me, JD," responded Vin, sipping his whiskey.
"Now, Vin, don't discourage the boy," admonished Josiah. "Thanksgiving is good time for all of us to take stock in the things that God has blessed us with in our lives. I think we ought to have a Thanksgiving celebration, invite the whole town. That way everyone can share what they have and get a good meal and fellowship at the same time."
"Save the sermon, preacher," grumbled Chris under his breath. "You can't say that all of us have been blessed. Vin's got a bounty on his head, Nathan was a slave, and I lost my family. So don't expect me to join in the festivities." With that, Chris got up from his place at the table and stalked down to the far end of the bar.
"What's his problem?," ask JD, confused at Chris's abrupt departure. "I thought Josiah's idea was a good one."
Buck interjected, "Don't you know anything, boy? The holidays are the hardest time for Chris since he lost Sara and Adam. So, Josiah, how do you think you're going to carry this shindig off??"
"I'm sure with all of your help, it will be a meal to remember," quipped Josiah back at Buck.
"I'll help you, Josiah," volunteered Nathan. "Maybe you could talk to Mrs. Travis. She might give you some good ideas and mention it in her paper even."
"Sounds like a plan, then. I help too," replied Buck, who returned to his latest conquest. Josiah had to chuckle. Some things never change.
"I think it's a wonderful idea, Mr. Jackson. I would love to help with the planning. I'll definitely put something in the newspaper. What else can I do?" effused Mary Travis.
"We were thinking that maybe you could speak to the other ladies in town and persuade them to help prepare the meal. We want everyone to bring the food that needs to be fixed a couple days early to the church, but if it already ready, then they can just bring it the day of the dinner. Everyone's invited, regardless of their contribution. Josiah said to make that perfectly clear in the announcement," explained Nathan.
"You know, we ought to get someone to present the Thanksgiving story, as sort of a reminder on why we have Thanksgiving," suggested Mary. "Do you have any ideas on who should perform the presentation, though?"
"Not me," Nathan said. "I'm not about to get up in front of a group of people. What we need is a good speaker."
"How about Ezra? He got a nice speaking voice and he's well read. He's also confortable in crowds." supplied Mary. Actually, she could almost swoon at the sound of his voice. She was attracted to Chris, but noone could surpass the sexy tenor of the handsome Southern gambler. "I just thought of this. His last name is Standish. How appropriate."
"I'm not following."
"Miles Standish was one of the original Pilgrims. Wouldn't it be fitting for one of his possible ancestors to give an oratory commemorating the day."
"Somehow, Mrs. Travis, if Ezra really was related to the man, I bet ole Miles is rolling over in his grave right about now. I don't know if this is a good idea. Ezra's not exactly the type to do something for charity," rationalized Nathan.
"Well, we'll just have to come up with a way to persuade him, won't we?"
"What do you have in mind," asked Nathan.
"Just leave that to me," smiled Mary as she cooked up a scheme to trap Ezra Standish into doing his part for the Thanksgiving celebration.
"Mr. Standish, might I have a word with you?," Mary Travis inquired in her nicest tone. Who said she didn't know how to ge things done. Normally, she would not go about trying to get his assistance this way, but it was for a good cause and she had to guarantee his help.
"Mrs. Travis, I would be honored to converse with you," charmed Ezra. He happened to think that Mary was just about the prettiest thing in these parts but he knew she only had eyes for Chris Larabee, so he respectfully kept his distance. "Please, why don't we take a seat right over here." He guided her over to one of the wooden benches in front of the Mercantile. Mary shook her head slightly. She knew she have to keep her wits about her and not fall into the trap of his sensuous voice, if she wanted to accomplish what she had set out to do.
"Mr. Standish," Mary regarded Ezra thoughtfully. "I was wondering..."she moved closer to him and gazed into his beautiful green eyes, "if you would be ever so kind to do me a favor?" Mary ran her hand gingerly across the soft wool of his dark green jacket, feeling the warmth of his body underneath. Be careful, she chided herself, don't overdo it or you could wind up in a predicament.
Ezra swallowed and backed away from Mary, but at the same time, was mesmerized by the blond woman's good looks and lilting voice. The usually eloquent man was, for once in his life, at a loss for words. "Wha...What?," he stammered as he tried to regain the normally so cool composure he prided himself on.
It was all Mary could do to stiffle her giggles at Ezra's startled behavior. "I need someone who is intelligent, witty, eloquent, um, someone like yourself to do a job for me. There is a definite reward for the brave man who comes forward to meet the challenge. What do you say, Mr. Standish?"
Ezra's mind raced as he contemplated the reward to which Mary was so coquettishly alluding. He wouldn't mind a chance with her, although he would be ever the consummate gentleman. "But...what about Chris?," he reasoned. He had never considered that she might even show an interest of the romantic persuasion toward him. Face it, Mary Travis was a little too proper to ever pay him much mind, well, at least he thought so until now.
"Chris isn't half the man you are for this particular assignment, Ezra May I call you Ezra?," she crooned in his ear. Ezra tensed at the whispy breath that fluttered across the side of his smooth-shaven cheek and the tips of his ears. Mary moved closer, her body slightly grazing his. "My, are you blushing? Why, I think that's just darling."
Be careful, Mary, you're going to either go to far and he'll catch on to your little scheme, or you're going to make yourself sick from the sugar you're laying on so thick. Of course, it was thrilling to think she could so easily con Ezra, the consummate conman, into doing something. No wonder he enjoyed it so much, she thought. The power behind it is incomparable.
"I..uh...would be glad to help you, Mrs. Travis," replied Ezra hesitantly. He moved closer to her and alarm bells sounded. Maybe she had gone a little to far.
"Wonderful. I told Nathan that you would be perfect. You have a great speaking voice and a veritable crowd presence."
"What does my speaking voice have to do with anything?," inquired Ezra, confused at the turn of events.
"Why, you are going to give the speech about the meaning of Thanksgiving in front of the entire town on Thursday. I know it's sort of short notice, but you have two days to get it prepared. We thought you could call on the muse of your ancestor, Myles Standish, to assist you with your task." With that, Mary rose from the bench and shook the hand of a very shocked Ezra, who was still seated on the bench. "I'm looking so forward to hearing your oratory. Until then, Mr. Standish." Mary breathed a sigh of relief, as she made her way back to her office.
Ezra shot back. "Mrs. Travis, you spoke of a reward. What, praytell, might that be?"
"Why, the reward that come from hard work and dedication, of a job well done. I'm sure you can appreciate that." Then the newspaper office door closed behind her, leaving Ezra alone. Ezra sat there, at first irritated and then bemused by the predicament in which he currently found himself. He had to admit that he had been thinking with his nether regions, instead of his brain, during his little tet-et-tet, but nothing aroused him more than an educated woman with an extended vocabulary. I vow and declare, Mary Travis, that my reward will be a little more substantial than a pat on the back for a job well done, and boy, did he plan to do a good job. Guess I better go research, ole Uncle Myles, he thought to himself as he made his way down to what was considered to be a library in Four Corners.
Nathan rushed into the church, his purpose was to seek out Josiah and ask his opinion on a rather pressing matter. Josiah was trying to work on a way so that the entire town could sit down inside the church for Thanksgiving dinner and needless to say, it was not working out quite as he had planned. The older man looked up at the sound of Nathan's boots on the wooden floor. "Josiah, we got a problem."
"Tell me about it. I don't know how we're going to fit everyone in here," drawled Josiah, scratching his chin thoughtfully.
"I'm being serious," Nathan replied. "You know the Cheyenne tribe west of here. Well, they couldn't move the village south for year, because of that influenza outbreak they had a month ago. They're going to need food for the next couple of months, or they'll starve."
"I guess in this predicament, brother Nathan, we should as good Christians invite them to partake of the feast on Thursday."
"The townsfolk's going to be real keen on that, Josiah. Some of them won't sit down to dinner with a black man, much less one of the Cheyenne."
"It's time we paid an old debt." Josiah slapped a comforting hand on Nathan's shoulder. "You just get them here, we'll deal with rest when the time comes."
"Buck, JD, for the last time I said no. Now I'm only going to warn you once. Leave me be," growled Chris, from under his hat, where he had been thoroughly enjoying the hangover from last night. There was no way he would set foot in the church for that damn dinner. Satan himself couldn't entice Chris there for anything in the world. It would just be too painful.
"JD, come on. We tried. I told you he wouldn't go," whispered Buck.
"Why?," asked JD in his normal naive manner. "He shouldn't be alone during the holidays."
"Oh, he's not alone," replied Buck sadly. "He got a heart full of memories to keep him company." Buck shook his head and put on his chipper, devil-may-care demeanor. "Besides, we need to find you a young lady to entertain during dinner. Come on, boy. We don't have all day."
Chris sat there, contemplating what Buck had just told JD about the memories. Was he that bad off? God, he missed Sarah and Adam so much since they were gone, but the holidays were the worst by far. The three of them had always had such a wonderful time together in the kitchen. The other guys wouldn't believe it if he told them that Sarah had always made him help with Thanksgiving dinner, and he even took the initiative to cook breakfast for her, and later Adam, on Christmas morning. He waved to the bartender to bring him a bottle of whiskey. He was looking to drown those memories, but somewhere in the back of his mind, there was an inkling that no matter what he tried, he couldn't do it.
Thanksgiving Day came and Josiah had his hands full trying to organize the dinner preparations and seating arrangements, along with the formidable power of Mary Travis. Vin had gone with Nathan out to where the Cheyenne tribe was encamped along the river, in order to escort them back for dinner. Buck and JD were keeping the single ladies entertained and noone had seen hide nor hair of either Ezra or Chris. Mary prayed that Ezra wouldn't be such a weasel that he wouldn't show up for the presentation. She knew, after the fact that she was really wrong in teasing him like that, but she had gotten so wrapped up in the play-acting. Now she knew why it was so hard to tell if Ezra was conning anyone or not, because it was so difficult to remove yourself from the role you were playing. She didn't blame him at all, if he was a little sore with her.
Chris strolled in, black duster swirling around his lean frame as the wind from outside whipped through the door. Surprised faces of his compatriots met him as he made his way up to where Josiah and Mary were standing at the front of the church discussing the serving of the food. He gave a perfunctory nod in Mary's direction, their eyes not quite meeting, then turned to Josiah. "What do you need help with?"
Josiah set him on helping to set up the trestle tables, then assisting the women bring in the heavy trays of food. There was a veritable bounty of edibles. Smoked hams, wild game of all sorts, a little corn, light loaves of bread made from some of the last of the available flour, vegetables, sweet berry pies and even a little pumpkin pie from one of the family's whose garden had prospered during the summer. The smells were heavenly inside the small building. More of the townsfolk began to arrive, bringing more food in their wake in accordance to what each family could afford. Chris sat up towards the front, joined by JD and Buck, who elbowed JD hard in the ribs, when the young man tried to ask Chris why he changed his mind. Buck didn't know and he didn't care. It was just great to see his friend back in the land of the living again.
The people in attendance were starting to grow impatient with every whiff of the delectable bounty in front of them. Mary was worried, because Ezra was late, but then as always, that was par for the course. Ezra came in rushed, a script in his hand. He was kind of disappointed with his effort. He had suffer some sort of writer's block in the process and didn't feel that his speech was up to his exacting standards. He was decked out in his best clothing and appeared dashingly handsome, catching the eye of many of the single women in the audience. He made his way up to the podium, and swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the nervous lump in his throat, when he realized that all eyes were on him.
Ezra cleared his throat as everyone took their seats and turned their attention on him. As Ezra began to speak, the door in the back of the church blew open and Vin, Nathan and their invited guests walked into the church, much to the dismay of the townsfolk attended. Murmurs of disent began to grow and several of the men rose from their chairs. Ezra as well as the other six men tensed for the ensuing confrontation. Josiah spoke over the crowd, "Please, everyone. These good people are our invited guests. They deserve to celebrate Thanksgiving the same as the rest of us."
"I didn't agree to eat with no Injun," groused a man from the back. Affirmatives to his sentiment made their rounds through the crowd of people.
Vin gestured for the Cheyenne people to make their way inside the church, all the while the seven were on their guard for any wrong move. The guests had brought what meager food they had, all that was in their camp, up to the front and set it there with the rest of the dinner that had been prepared. Chris rose, and allowed a young mother with a child to take his seat. JD and Buck easily reliquished their chairs as well. But the rest of the town remained stubbornly cold.
Ezra remembered what he had read in his research when he was attempting to compose his speech. "Ahem, I believe I would have to say with all honesty, that those intrepid people who shared the first Thanksgiving, and even those who have shared in the spirit of that historic meal from then on, would be ashamed to join us here tonight. I had a speech about what Thanksgiving meant, but it was trite histories and flattering platitudes. I missed the real meaning, There were things that I discovered, things I was willing going to leave out of my oratory, in order to present what was in my mind a proper and fitting analysis of Thanksgiving."
Ezra scanned the audience who appeared to be focused intently on what he was saying. "My ancestor, Myles Standish, has been written up in history as one of the great leaders of the Plimouth colony. Well, in conventional ways he was. He headed up the military defense of the colony as well as participated in the hunts and politics of what was to be New England. But he was unconventional at the same time. He formed a great friendship with a warrior of Massasoit's, Hobomok. And he discovered that he could learn a lot from someone who was considered by 'civilized' society as being a savage. Now why in my right mind would I ever want to reveal to this town that one of my family was an 'Indian lover'. Admittedly, I have not been the most tolerant towards those who are different from me." He cast a meaningful look in Nathan's direction. Nathan accepted the apology with a silent nod and a slight smile.
"But the Wampanogs were a compassionate people who could overlook the treatment by society and seek friendships with the individuals that comprised that society. They helped those Pilgrims to this great land to thrive and prosper. And those Pilgrims were wise enough to realize what they had before them, a great friendship for which they should be thankful. Don't we owe it to ourselves, much less our invited guests, to act in accordance to the dignity and memory of the Thanksgiving celebration?" He looked out at the expressions in the audience, expecting to be rousted off the platform by an angry mob. But instead there were looks of chagrin and shame on the faces of the townspeople. Ezra made his way off the stage and walked over to one of the older Cheyenne men, and gestured for him to begin the line for the food. Rapidly the rest of the people responded, hesitantly interacting with the Cheyenne visitors at first, then becoming more confident. Josiah came up behind Ezra and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Boy, if you ever want to take up preaching, I can find ya a place. That's the best bit of speaking I've heard in a great while. And you don't fool me, I know you weren't using that written speech of yours. That could have only come from your heart." Ezra blushed at the compliment. That was the second time he had blushed this week. That reminded him - he still had some unfinished business. He sought Mary Travis out in the throng of people and pulled her over to the side.
"That was one of the best speeches I have ever heard, Mr. Standish. I truly congratulate you for your fine oratory." She smiled up at him, her blue eyes shining.
Ezra's green eyes twinkled. Abruptly he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her up flush against him. She squeeked in protest as she felt his hard, lean body next to her softer one.
"Mr. Standish, what are you doing?," she asked breathlessly.
"Getting my reward." And with that, he dipped his head and kissed her full on the mouth, to cheers of the rest of the people in the church. The last thought she remembered coherently as she wrapped her arms around his neck to deepen the kiss was I'm definitely going to have to rethink the Chris situation.
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