Myristica's Page

"To Soar Above The Coulds" (Gen) Part 2
Home
What others are saying about Myristica's work...
"The Harp & Sword Chronicles"
"The Devil And Davy Jones" Monkees Slash Mike/Davy Part I By Myristica
"The Devil And Davy Jones" Monkees Slash Mike/Davy Part 2 (Conclusion) By Myristica
Magnificent Seven Fiction (Chris/Vin)
"Poet's Heart" (Gen)
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Part 1
"To Soar Above The Coulds" (Gen) Part 2
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Part 3
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Part 4
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Conclusion
"A Face To The Reason" Prologue (Slash - Chris/Vin, Buck/Ezra)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 1-2 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 3-4 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 5-6 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 7-8 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 9-11 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 12-13 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 14-16 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 17-19 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 20-22 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Epilogue (Slash C/V and B/E)

Enter subhead content here

"To Soar Above The Clouds"
By: Myristica

myristica63@gmail.com  

 

Part 2

 

The meeting hall was full with people.  The auditions were going well, at least from an observer's point of view.  Mary and Hathaway were inside sitting at a table on the stage, listening to the 'would be' actors reading their parts, or reciting their poetry.

 

Chris was on the other side of the street.  Too many people...he hated it.  He was sipping a cup of coffee outside the saloon with Nathan and Buck at his side.  Ezra was lost somewhere in that crowd along with Josiah.  The gambler had mentioned something about 'missed opportunities', and he and the preacher had decided it would be something different to do that day.  Chris allowed a grin and Nathan caught it.  "What you grinnin' about, Chris?  You hate what's goin' on over there."

 

"That I do, Nathan, but I would dearly love to catch Ezra's recital.  Wonder what he's going to read today."

 

"I believe he mentioned something about King Lear," Buck replied, sipping his own cup of coffee.  There was a mischievous grin behind his eyes.

 

Nathan chuckled.  "Josiah is doing something from Donne, I think.  One of his favorites."

 

"Yeah, and JD is over there watching it all.  When he saw the turnout, his eyes bugged out so big I thought for sure they was gonna pop."  Buck almost laughed at the memory.

 

Chris chuckled.  He looked down the street and saw Vin leaving his wagon.  The tracker headed over to the back of the meeting hall. 

 

"Where's he goin'?" Buck asked.

 

"His own business, Buck," Chris replied.

 

"Yeah, okay it's his business, but, hell, never took Vin to be interested

in auditioning."

 

"He ain't going over there for that.  It's the man we met last night."

 

"Oh, right.  JD mentioned that guy.  Who is he?"

 

"Actor.  Theodore Marcus.  Ever hear of him?"

 

Buck looked thoughtful.  "Yeah, I did.  Seems to me he faded into the woodwork about a year ago.  Had no idea what happened to him, though."

 

"Being burned like that, I reckon his stage days are over," Nathan said.

 

"Seem to remember reading somethin' about some acting company involved in a fire last year in Kansas City.  Would Hathaway's actors be them?" Buck asked.

 

Chris nodded.  "From what I understand.  Mary didn't mention anything about it, though.  Must be a closed subject."

 

"So why is Vin interested in this actor?" Nathan asked. 

 

Chris shrugged.  He looked at Nathan and smiled.  "Learning how to fly."

 

Nathan and Buck exchanged curious glances.  Obviously it was an inside joke and neither of the others were going to be let in on it.  They shrugged and continued to watch the morning pass them by.

 

++++

 

Vin knocked on Marcus' door.  "Enter," came the reply.  He opened the

door and found Marcus stacking books and such on a crate.  "Mister Tanner, welcome.  I was hoping you would be here today."

 

"Chris told me I could come by after the auditions, but...reckon my curiosity got the better of me.  I could come back at a later time if this is..."

 

"Nonsense.  I would rather talk with you than clean this room anyway."  Marcus seemed truly pleased that Vin had shown up early.

 

The tracker nodded in affirmation; then he gestured with his thumb behind him.  "Don't seem to be much privacy in the hall, Mister Marcus.  Is there another place we could do this?"

 

"Certainly."  Marcus grabbed up two books and gestured to the door.  "If you will follow me, I know a secluded spot where we can work." 

 

The actor was smiling and Vin felt immediately at ease around the man.  "I really don't know why I came this morning, Mister Marcus."

 

"I do, Mister Tanner.  And before we are done you will know as well." 

 

He opened the door and walked out, waiting for Vin to follow before closing the door and locking it.  "This way if you would."  Marcus led the way down the back hall and opened up a room that was empty except for a few chairs and a table to the side where a pitcher of water stood with some glasses.  "This should do nicely.  Please, come in."

 

Vin entered, his fingers latched onto his gun belt.  When Marcus closed the door the sounds of the people outside became muffled.  Vin removed his hat.  "How would ya' like to do this?"

 

Marcus handed him one of the books.  "Hamlet.  You said you were familiar with this work."

 

Vin rested his hat on the back of one of the chairs and took the book.  He examined it carefully.  "I never thought I'd actually hold the printed words in my hand."

 

Marcus smiled.  "It's a day for miracles, Mister Tanner.  For both of us."

 

Vin returned the smile.  "Call me Vin."

 

Marcus nodded, pleased.  "Vin it is.  And I prefer to be called Marcus.  Now, just make yourself comfortable.  We will not be acting, today, just reading.  And remember...I will help you with any words you have trouble with."

 

"Well, that'll be pretty much all of 'em," he said with a slight smile.  "I hope ya' have a lot of patience."

 

"After what I've lived through, Vin, patience and I are old friends."

 

Vin took off his jacket and laid it over the chair that his hat rested on.  He sat down on another chair and Marcus pulled up one to sit in front of him.  "Shall we begin?"

 

"I reckon so."  Vin opened up the book.  "Marcus?  Would ya' do me a big favor?"

 

"Certainly, Vin.  What would that be?"

 

"Ya' said we wouldn't be actin' today.  But I wouldn't mind if'n ya' wanted to.  It's what ya' do."

 

Marcus gazed at Vin with something akin to understanding.  "You really wouldn't mind?"

 

Vin shook his head.  "I'd like to see ya' perform this again," he replied, gesturing to the book.

 

"Even with my scars?"

 

Vin shrugged.  "Don't recall seein' scars, Marcus.  I just see an actor."

 

Marcus was touched by this request.  He stood and cleared his throat.  "Very well, Vin.  With you doing me the favor of reading with me, I can return that favor by performing for you.  It would be an honor."

 

Vin smiled.  "Where do we start?"

 

++++

 

Later that day...

 

Chris entered the Clarion to see Mary busily at work on the printing press.  She turned.  When she saw it was Chris she quickly stopped what she was doing and wiped her ink-stained hands on her equally ink-stained apron.  Her hair was slightly askew, but because of the ink, she didn't bother smoothing it down.  "Mister Larabee, good afternoon.  Is there something I can do for you?"

 

"Yeah, Mary.  I was wondering if you would happen to have the newspaper stories regarding the fire in Kansas City?  The one Hathaway's actors were involved in?"

 

She flinched back a bit in surprise.  "You know of that?"

 

"Yes.  Remembered it last night.  Wanted to read the report again.  Personal reasons."

 

"Certainly.  I have a few copies in my files.  I'll just be a minute."

 

"Take your time."

 

Mary left to go back into her file room.  Chris took the time to look around.  He saw an envelope with Vin's name on it, done in Mary's handwriting.  He wondered what was in the envelope.  He turned away when Mary came back with a handful of articles and newspapers. 

 

"Here you are.  These are all I collected.  Would you like to read them

here or..."

 

"I'd like to take them to the jailhouse if that would be all right.  Give me something to read other than wanted posters."

 

"Certainly.  You will bring them back when you're finished?"

 

"That I will.  Mary, I was wondering if you would like me to give this to Vin when I see him?  I saw his name was on it."  He gestured to the envelope.

 

Mary looked nervous.  She did not know how Chris would take the news that Vin had shared the gunslinger's poem with her, even if it was because she was the only one to help him print it up.  She took the envelope and studied it for a moment.  She didn't exactly have to volunteer any information.  "I would appreciate it if you gave it to him.  I don't know if I can find the time at this point."

 

Chris took the envelope.  "I'll take care of it for you, Mary.  I won't be keeping you from your work anymore.  Thanks for the articles."

 

"My pleasure."

 

Chris tipped his hat to her and headed out of the Clarion, making his way back to the jailhouse, pocketing the envelope in his jacket as he did so.  Though he was curious as to the contents, he was the type to ignore that curiosity.  It wasn't his business.

 

Mary didn't give his visit another thought, and went back to printing up the programs for that night's performance.

 

++++
 
The day wore on.  Chris and Ezra along with Buck and Josiah were in the saloon, playing cards.  Nathan was out patrolling, keeping an eye on things.  "So no one knows who won that twenty dollars?" Buck asked, genuinely curious as he took a swig of beer from his mug.

 

"I dare say the verdict is still out on that judgment," Ezra said as he dealt the cards for another game of poker.  "Might I ask where Mister Dunne and Mister Tanner are?"

 

"JD's out and about, probably mingling with them actor people," Buck replied as he took up his cards and began to organize them.  "Haven't seen Vin since this morning."

 

Chris took a look out the window towards the town meeting hall.  "I should find out what's keeping him.  He could easily have lost track of time."  He stood and put on his hat. 
 
"You still keeping it a mystery as to why he's over there, Chris?" Buck asked.

 

Chris just smiled.  "It's up to Vin to tell you if he feels inclined to."  And with that he was out the doors.

 

Buck and Josiah looked at each other.  "The man doesn't have a reputation for being mysterious without a reason," the preacher noted.

 

"Indeed.  Dare I say Mister Tanner has found himself a young actress that he may be wanting to carry a torch for?"

 

"You been daring a lot in these last few minutes, Ez," Buck joked.  He looked over the top of his cards, waggling his eyebrows.  "Careful you don't dare yourself into somethin' embarrassin'."

 

Ezra cast him a slit-eyed look.  "And what better person to offer that advice than the king of fools.  Play cards, Mister Wilmington."

 

Buck glared at him.  "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

 

Josiah leaned back and organized his cards.  "The game is now called

'War'."

 

++++

 

Chris entered the meeting hall to find Mary and Hathaway going over some paper work.

 

"Thank you so much for printing up these programs, Mary.  They look fine," Hathaway was saying as he gestured to the stack of programs on the table.  "So you agree that he should be the one?"

 

Mary nodded.  "I do.  He did give the most meaningful reading today."

 

Hathaway agreed.  "Then it will be my privilege to bestow the honor upon him this evening."

 

"I take it that means you have a winner?" Chris asked as he approached the stage.  He noticed the props and decorations were all in place.  Marcus had done a fine job.

 

"Yes it does, but we can't tell you.  The winner will be announced tonight after the performance," Hathaway explained. 

 

"What are you doing here, Chris?" Mary asked, a surprised tone in her voice.  Surprised, but pleased.  "You decide to join in after all?"

 

"Not me.  I was just looking for Vin.  He was supposed to meet with Mister Marcus today."

 

"Teddy?  You met him?" Hathaway asked, surprised.

 

"Last night.  He was having some problems with the stage decorations."

 

Hathaway's surprised look gave way to one of annoyance.  The look was not lost on Chris.  "I see.  Well, to be honest I've been so busy with the auditions today that I haven't seen sight of either Teddy or Mister Tanner.  You could try the rooms in the back."

 

Chris tipped his hat to both of them.  "Much obliged," he said.

 

As he headed towards the back of the stage, Hathaway threw out the invitation. "Feel free to come and see tonight's performance, Mister Larabee.  I assure you, you won't be disappointed."

 

"I'll think about it." 

 

When he disappeared Mary shrugged to Hathaway.  "He's just not into plays, I suppose."

 

Hathaway shook his head regretfully.  "A very mysterious man, Mary."

 

She looked at Hathaway curiously.  "Who's Mister Marcus?"

 

Hathaway ignored her.  He seemed lost in his own thoughts.

 

Mary looked thoughtful.  "Wait a moment...Theodore Marcus?  Yes, that's right.  I remember hearing him mentioned as being part of your company."

 

Hathaway was looking in the direction Chris had gone.  His gaze was

tense as well as his body.  "Hmm?  Oh, yes, yes, that's right."

 

"A very prominent player if I remember correctly.  Why was he not here for the auditions this morning?"

 

Hathaway went back to his paper work.  He seemed suddenly nervous.  "He, uh, he had things he needed to do for tonight's performance."

 

"I see.  And that would explain why you haven't introduced me to him then?  He's just...very busy?"  Mary was fishing.  She could tell Hathaway was keeping something from her.  Her reporter's instincts kicked in.

 

"Mary, I..."

 

"What is it, James?  Why would Theodore Marcus be interested in Vin Tanner?"

 

Hathaway shook his balding head, sighing heavily.  "That I can't tell you."

 

"Why would Mister Marcus not come out and greet the people?"

 

"Mary, you're asking too many questions."

 

"I'm a reporter, James.  Why hasn't Theodore Marcus shown himself?"

 

Hathaway let out another breath.  "It's...a very long story, Mary."

 

"Well consider me very attentive, James.  Something about Mister Marcus is bothering you.  If it's something I can help you with..."

 

"Mary!" Hathaway interrupted her gruffly.  They locked eyes and he relaxed somewhat under her gaze.  "Can you help bring back my son?"

 

Marcy flinched back.  What did Robert Hathaway's death have to do with Theodore Marcus?

 

He put a hand to her cheek and patted it in a fatherly way.  "Perhaps I can tell you about it over dinner?" 

 

The pain in Hathaway's eyes made Mary wish she had never pushed the subject, but maybe talking about it would help the older man.  And maybe she would finally learn the whole story as to how Robert had died.

 

++++
 
"I've often felt that way, Marcus.  To be or not to be.  It's a question I've pondered fer a long time," Vin said from where he sat.

 

"As have I.  Especially after the fire that disfigured me."

 

"Did ya' think ya' were gonna die?  Was anyone there to help ya'?"

 

"Yes, but unfortunately, I believe it was more out of obligation than the sincere desire to see my life saved.  At least I've come to believe that."  Marcus' good eye looked haunted.

 

"Why's that?  Do ya' think the fire was deliberately set?"

 

Marcus stood and went to where a pitcher of water stood on a small table against a wall.  "No, Vin.  Not deliberately."  His voice was tense as if he did not believe what he had just said.

 

Vin watched as Marcus poured two glasses of water.  He then set the pitcher down and carried the glasses back handing one to Vin.  He drank his water, but Vin just held his glass looking at Marcus with concern. 

 

"Sometimes it helps to talk to strangers," the tracker offered.

 

Marcus sat down and set his water on the floor next to his chair.  He waved off the invitation.  "Another time, perhaps."

 

Vin would not push the issue.  He took a swallow of water and set the glass down at his feet.

 

"Shall we try another scene from Hamlet, Vin?  You are doing so well."

 

Vin sighed.  "I keep messin' up with the words, Marcus.  I know ya' said you'd help me and ya' are, but...it just don't seem to be makin' much sense to me."

 

Marcus smiled.  "The Bard is extremely difficult to understand at times, but that is why I believe you can do well with him.  You strike me as

someone who enjoys a challenge."

 

Vin glanced down at the book in his hands.  He acted as if he wanted to say something, but stopped himself.  "What is it, Vin?  You can speak freely with me."

 

Vin raised a questioning gaze to the actor.  "Would ya' tell me why this

is important to ya'?  Ya' mentioned some of it last night, but I reckon I just need a bit more understandin'."

 

"You do understand, Vin, you just don't know it yet.  It's all new and unknown to you.  A voyage of discovery, if you will.  But you needn't fear it.  I know, I know. You would say you don't fear much of anything, but to be a lover of words puts one in a vulnerable state.  You spoke of Mister Standish laughing at you when you asked him to write down that poem of yours.  You spoke to me of the shame you felt when Mrs. Travis realized you did not know how to read.  Vulnerability, Vin.  That is what is raising its head in front of you at this time.  Do not fear the feeling.  Let the words flow over you like rain.  Let them give you new life.  Do not lose who you are in reality, but lose yourself in the words for the moment.  God spoke the world into existence.  Words are the soul of creation, the tools of the heart.  A poet is not a poet without the art of expression.  Words can be either powerful weapons, capable of tearing down nations, or powerful tools capable of building back up.   They can push a man to anger, or they can break a man to tears.  Used to teach they can make a man wise.  Used to paint they can make a poet.  This is your talent, Vin.  Speak it.  Let your heart be heard."

 

Vin stood and walked away a few steps.  "I wrote somethin' last night. 

Thought you'd be interested in hearin' it."

 

"I would indeed, Vin.  Would you like me to write it down?"  Marcus reached for a pencil and paper inside his vest pocket.  Vin turned to him and nodded.  He gazed off past Marcus and began to recite...

 

"I hear the pelt of rain as it whispers to the ground.
Angel tears they have been named.

 

In this darkness, I am alone, the earth my only friend.
I walk its paths, never seeing the end of my journey.

 

The sunlight peers from behind the clouds and in its light I see another.
Loneliness is his companion as well as mine.

 

We walk alone, but our steps are as one."

 

Marcus finished writing the words down and he read them over one more time, his one good eye clearly showing he was pleased.  "You speak of Mister Larabee."

 

Silence.

 

Marcus stood and read the words again.  "This is powerful, Vin.  Sad, but...very powerful.  Will you be showing this to him soon?"

 

Vin nodded.  "What I've written, yeah."

 

"I see.  It's not completed, then.  If you would like I could..."

 

Vin interrupted him.  "Marcus?"

 

"Yes, Vin?"

 

"I ain't meanin' to be rude, but I have another question fer ya'?  I guess ya' could say I'm tryin' to lead up to somethin'."

 

Marcus set the paper down on the table next to the pitcher of water.  "I'm listening."

 

Vin leaned back against the wall, his head lowered.  "Ya' spoke of not being able to show yourself in public without some sort of coverin'?"

 

"That's right.  I feel I would only scare people without covering my face.  My arm is nothing.  But this face...it is hideous and I know it.  I see you, Vin, and I will say it again.  God has graced you with a comely appearance."

 

Vin turned thoughtful.  "Not so much as ya' might think."

 

Marcus looked at him curiously.  "Why do you say that?"

 

Vin was silent, his gaze staring off into space as he remembered a time a few years ago, while he was still bounty hunting.  "Scars ain't always visible.  Like you, I cover mine."

 

"Are you talking about inner scars, Vin?"

 

"No."

 

"What then?"

 

Vin pushed himself away from the wall and removed his suspenders.  He unbuttoned his shirt and removed it as well.  He slowly turned to show Marcus his back.

 

"Dear Lord, Vin."  Marcus stood and approached closer.  "These...these are lash scars.  How on earth did you get these?"

 

"It was a long time ago.  A time when I was not nearly as wise as I am now to the nature of man."  Vin turned around, not bothering to put his shirt back on.  Marcus was standing before him, his scars fully visible.  Vin wanted the man to know he was not the only one in this room who bore the physical repercussions of a violent encounter with fate.  "I was trackin' this murderer.  He used whips on his victims.  I trailed 'im to a desert in Oklahoma.  Must have known I was trackin' 'im and he trapped me.  When he found out I was after 'im fer the bounty, he tied my hands to a tree and ripped the shirt from my back.  The next thing I knew my skin was being ripped to shreds.  He shot my horse and left me fer dead."

 

Marcus looked at Vin with sorrow.  "How did you escape such a horrible fate?"

 

"It was a Cheyenne dogman, a scout fer his tribe.  He cut me down and helped me back to his village where their medicine man worked on me.  I survived, but the man who had done it was long gone.  I never picked up his trail again.  I reckon another bounty hunter got 'im.  Ain't seen his wanted poster in years."

 

"Vin, to survive such a horrible thing, you must have the will of a mule."

 

Vin chuckled.  "Chris would rightly agree to that."

 

"How can a man who has gone through so much in such a short time of life, how can he see the beauty of the world?"

 

"I never gave it much thought, I reckon.  Never knew I had it in me, least ways not 'til Mary held that poetry contest a few months back."

 

"Well, I am grateful to her for helping you to see the potential within you."

 

Vin lowered his head, abashed. 

 

Marcus looked down at the poem on the table.  "And have you shown Mister Larabee those scars, Vin?  Have you shared that horrible moment of your life when the whip was laid to your back?"

 

Vin shook his head.   "I s'pose one day he'll see 'em, if'n I get shot or sick.  Nathan knows of 'em.  I broke some ribs a while back.  I made Nathan promise not to tell anyone, 'specially Chris."

 

"Why, if you speak so endearingly of someone like Mister Larabee, why do you feel the need to hide such a piece of yourself from him?  From anyone?"

 

"It ain't worth speakin' of, I reckon.  The past is the past.  I let it lay when I can.  'Sides, nothin' Chris can do about what happened anyway."

 

A knock was heard.  Vin jumped.  He had been so engrossed in the conversation that he failed to keep his hearing tuned for unwelcome visitors.  "Vin?  You in there?"  The door latch had not held and when Chris knocked the door swung open.  When he walked in he saw Vin's back.  "What the hell!"

 

Vin realized Chris had seen his back and quickly pulled his shirt back on.  He started buttoning it.  "Damn it, Chris!"  He quickly started for the door to leave when Chris grabbed his arm.  "Vin?"

 

Vin glared at him.  "Let it go, Larabee."  He shook Chris' hand off his arm and hurried out of the room.

 

Chris looked at Marcus.  "What the hell was that all about?"

 

Marcus stood and went to the chair where Vin's hat and coat were.  He lifted them and held them out to Chris.  "We spoke of my scars, Mister Larabee.  He showed me his.  It was his way of establishing some common ground between us, other than our love of words.  I'm sorry you had to find out about his back in this manner."

 

Chris took the hat and coat.  "Me, too, Marcus."  He turned and headed out of the room.  "Me, too."

 

"Larabee?"

 

Chris stopped and turned back to the scarred man. 

 

"Let him come to you with it, my friend.  Those scars represent a part of his past where he failed.  Failure does not come easy for a man to swallow, especially around someone he respects.  He respects you."

 

"And yet he was able to show his scars to you?"  Chris sounded angry.

 

Marcus smiled gently at him.  "Only the physical ones.  You hold the ones that have seared his soul...the ones that are still in need of healing."

 

Chris gazed at Marcus as if a revelation had dawned inside of him.  He lowered his head and studied Vin's hat and coat.  "I always wondered why he hardly ever took his shirt off in front of us."  He looked back at Marcus, this time his expression was kinder.  "Thank you."

 

Marcus nodded once to him with understanding.

 

Chris tipped his hat to the actor and left the room.  He had to find Vin, even if just to give him back his hat and coat.  As much as he wanted to know what happened to his friend, he would do what Marcus suggested...and let Vin tell him when he was ready.

 

++++

 

"You leaving?"

 

Vin was saddling up Peso, tightening the cinch.  He didn't look behind him as Chris approached and handed him his hat and coat.  "Might need these."

 

Vin stopped cinching and looked at the objects of clothing in Chris' hand.  He slowly reached out and took them.  "Thanks," he softly spoke, but he did not turn to look at him. 

 

Chris stood there for a moment, staring at Vin, waiting for some word to show him he should either leave or stay.

 

"What do ya' want me to say, Chris?"

 

"Nothing," Chris said, leaning back against the stall door.  "Less'n of course you want to talk."

 

"It happened.  It's over.  Dead and buried."

 

"The bastard that did it?"

 

Vin finished cinching the saddle and reached to untie the reins from the stall door.  "Don't rightly know," he replied.  "Dead as well, I reckon."

 

Vin was doing his best not to make eye contact with the gunslinger.  He was angry that Chris had found out about the scars.  Chris lowered his head.  "Nothing to be ashamed of, Vin."

 

Vin stopped moving, his hands resting on Peso's neck.  "Sometimes..." he started.

 

Chris looked up at him and saw that Vin wasn't moving.  "Sometimes I have dreams," Vin finished.

 

"You ever spoke of this to anyone before?"

 

"Nathan knows about 'em."

 

"Fine.  Nathan knows about them, but have you ever spoken about it?"

 

Vin lifted accusing eyes to Chris.  "Ya' know better than anyone what it takes to talk about your past, Larabee."

 

Chris looked away and took in a deep breath as he wrapped his thumbs around his gun belt.  "Yeah, I know.  What was his name?"

 

Vin turned his attention back to Peso's neck.  "Calder.  Roy Calder."

 

Chris felt a thud in his gut.  "The whipping murders.  Heard about them.  He was one of the bounty's you went after?"

 

Vin nodded as he put on his hat and coat.  He put his hand on the saddle horn.  "I told ya' about the bounty on my head after only knowing ya' fer a day.  Why is it so hard to talk to you about...this?"

 

"Don't know, Vin.  Like I told you last night, maybe 'cause you never had anyone to listen to you before."

 

Vin thought about this explanation then nodded once.  "Town's gettin' to me.  Need to wander fer a bit."

 

Chris pushed himself away from the stall door.  He reached up and put a hand on Vin's shoulder, not looking at him.  "The difference between a wise man and a foolish man, Vin, is not the amount of intelligence they have...it's whether or not they learn from their mistakes.  I doubt seriously you would make the same mistake twice that you made with Calder."  Another squeeze and Chris released his hold.  Without another word he left the livery.

 

Vin stood there for a few seconds more, not turning to watch Chris leave.  His anger was ebbing, but the shame was still eating at him.  Why he was ashamed was the mystery.  If anyone understood mistakes it would be Chris.  Shaking his head, he led Peso out of the livery and mounted, then he was gone, Chris' words still echoing in his ears.

 

++++

 

That evening...

 

Hathaway pulled the chair out from the table and Mary sat down.  The hotel restaurant was filled with patrons who wanted to eat before the eight o'clock premiere.  Many people came over to meet the man responsible for bringing some culture to Four Corners.  One was a man named Joseph who brought his daughter, Lizzy, over as well.  The girl was about six years old and was wide-eyed at James' giant appearance. 

 

"Well, Hello there, little lady.  I hear you're coming to see the play tonight."  Hathaway spoke with none of the melancholy he had given into earlier.

 

Lizzy nodded, blond curls bouncing.  Her voice was caught in her throat.

Hathaway laughed with delight.  "Well, Mister Riley, you be sure to give your name at the door and I will leave instructions that you and your family are to get front row center."

 

Joseph smiled brightly.  "Thank you, Mister Hathaway.  We appreciate that very much.  It's Lizzy's first time at seeing a play.  She's been doing nothing but talk about it all week."

 

"I can imagine.  Seeing a play for the first time can be a very exciting adventure."  He placed his forefinger and thumb to Lizzy's chin and smiled at her.  "I shall dedicate tonight's play to you, Princess.  Would you like that?"

 

She finally spoke with a scrunched up face.  "What's a ded'cate?"

 

Hathaway roared with laughter.  "Perhaps your father will explain it to you."  He reached down and took her little hand in his giant one.  "You enjoy the show, Princess."

 

She gazed at his large hand and her voice was gone again.  She could only nod as Hathaway let her go and her father led her off.  "Thank you again for your time, Mister Hathaway.  It sure is a pleasure to have you and your actors in Four Corners."  Joseph tipped his hat and they continued on their way.

 

Hathaway studied the father and daughter curiously.  "Now, they can't be from around here, Mary, can they?  He's dressed like a westerner, but his thirst for the finer things in life is very apparent."

 

"Well, you're a good judge of character, James.  Mister Riley moved his family out here from the east about six months ago.  He wanted to try his hand at farming.  They've hit hard times and his dreams of the west are like all that dreamer's dream.  Fading with the light of day.  But, to his credit, he keeps pushing forward.  I think he likes the idea behind the dream more than the dream itself."

 

"Ideals are sometimes the back bone of trailblazers, Mary.  Lord knows the west can use some ideals."

 

Hathaway took on a far away gaze and Mary could see they would have no privacy to talk in the restaurant.  "Would you like to leave, James?  We could talk at my place."

 

"Ah, Mary, perhaps it is not important to discuss the matter at all."

 

"James, please," Mary spoke with all the forthrightness that made her the independent woman she had become.  "I want to know.  I may not have been close to Robert, but his death was a blow to me.  I would very much like to know what happened."

 

Hathaway studied her for a long moment.  "Very well.  Let us retire to your home.  Perhaps the restaurant is too public a place to discuss the details."

 

++++

 

When the two left the hotel, they walked down the street toward the Clarion, Mary's arm hooked around James'. 

 

Chris watched from where he sat outside the saloon.  He had been enjoying the atmosphere of the setting sun until he saw the two together.  He watched them carefully, remembering the newspaper articles he read that day regarding the story of the fire in Kansas City.  Something in those reports had caught his attention and had rubbed him the wrong way.  Now that he'd had time to think about it, it rubbed him almost raw.

 

The report had quoted Hathaway as saying that the accident was unfortunate, and that another actor, though negligent, was not to blame.  "I forgive him for his actions and thus offer him a place amongst my family where he will be taken care of.  It is the Christian thing to do."

 

Chris shook his head.  If Hathaway did not blame Marcus for the death of his son, then why the hell did he make a point of saying he 'forgave' him?  It is true that papers tended to misquote people, but...what if the quote had been word for word?

 

Granted it was not much to base his reaction on, and he truthfully did not know Hathaway, but Chris could not shake the feeling the man was as phony as a three-dollar bill.

 

It all came to the masks again.  Was Chris examining Hathaway too closely?  Or could it be that Hathaway was not truly wearing a mask at all?  The only way to be sure was to watch and wait.  There was no harm in keeping one's guard up.  It was a rule that had become second nature to him.

 

++++

 

Mary poured Hathaway a cup of tea as they sat in her parlor, which was located behind the Clarion office.  She sat on the opposite end of the divan and angled herself to look at him directly.  "Now, tell me what happened."

 

Hathaway took a sip of the tea and set the cup down on the table before him.  "Theodore Marcus came to us a month after you last saw us perform.  He was exiting one troupe, desiring to join ours because of our emphasis on the poetic dramas.  Turns out he's a poet himself."

 

"Ah," Mary nodded.  "Which would explain his apparent interest in Vin Tanner.  He must have heard about his poetry."

 

"Perhaps.   But I never introduced them, Mary.  I never would have for the reasons I'm about to tell you."

 

The subject of Vin halted and Mary gestured for Hathaway to proceed.  "Well, when Teddy joined, he couldn't have been but ten years older than Robert, but he had been raised in the arena of theater, just like Robert was.  Teddy's was a pure talent.  Robert was immensely drawn to him more for the relief of having someone new to talk the stage with other than his father.  They became close friends in spite of their age difference."

 

Mary thought of Buck and JD and the difference in their ages, then she thought of Chris and Vin.  No one knew for sure how old Vin was, but he looked to be around twenty-five.  Chris had to be in his late thirties or early forties.  She smiled at James.  "Age has no say in friendship, James."

 

"So true, Mary, but Robert was so young and Teddy, well, he was not na´ve to the ways of the world.  He would lure Robert into all sorts of unseemly behavior.  Wine, women and then Teddy started changing.  The applause he always received bolstered his ego.  He became arrogant.  He even began to look down his nose at Robert.  So much so that Robert decided to do something about it.  He began to take on Teddy's attitude.  He became demanding, argumentative, not the Robert we both once knew.  When Teddy drank, Robert drank.  When Teddy gambled, Robert gambled.  When Teddy took a whore...Robert..." he stopped, noticing Mary's expression.  "Forgive me, Mary.  It must be hard for you to hear this."

 

She reached out and took his arm.  "Not as hard as it is for you to live with those memories."

 

He reached over and patted her arm, appreciation in the gesture. 

 

Mary shook her head.  "The young are so easily influenced by those they idolize."

 

"Indeed and it was that worship of Teddy that got Robert killed."  Hathaway let out a shaky breath.  "A stupid accident and my world as well as Robert's life were destroyed."

 

"Tell me, James.  How did the fire start?"

 

He looked at her, a friendly gleam in his eyes.  "Are you asking as a reporter...or a friend?"

 

"A friend," she replied, smiling warmly.

 

He returned the smile and nodded.  "It was after the closing performance.  As usual Teddy received his applause and standing ovations, and as with all closing performances, we celebrated.  Teddy took his celebration a bit too far, though, as did Robert.  They became drunk.  They started showing off on stage amidst the light of the lanterns.  The people had long since gone home and the hall was empty except for us struggling actors.  They all participated in mocking the plays we did.  Teddy could take Shakespeare and create a whole new world within the words.  One of the reasons Robert admired him so greatly.  He could play Romeo as an ape, or Mercutio as a meek and timid soul.  He even once played Juliet as a Texas gunslinger if you can believe that."  Hathaway chuckled at the memory.  "Complete with guns, accent and all."

 

Mary laughed with him and for a moment the subject of their conversation was forgotten...for a moment.  Suddenly Hathaway sobered and somberness loomed between them.  "As prideful as Teddy was the other performers knew he was the reason people came to see us, and they never once had a bad thing to say about his talent.  As a person they loathed him, but as an entertainer...they loved him.  They told me they could put up with Teddy's arrogance as long as he kept

drawing in the crowds.  And so, I let him stay on.

 

"Anyway, the joking continued into the early hours of the morning, and so did the drinking.  I had retired to the office to count the ticket sales for that night, so what happened next is vague to me.  What Teddy can remember is this...he accidentally knocked a lantern down.  It hit the curtain and within seconds the entire stage was an inferno.  The other actors ran for their lives out of the building, screaming 'fire, fire!'.  I could smell the smoke and knew we were in trouble, so I grabbed all the money I could and headed for the backstage doors. 

"The town became alerted and the citizens desperately tried to save the hall.  It was then that I realized my son was not among the others that had escaped.  I searched for Teddy, knowing that if my son would be with anyone, it would be him.  But Teddy was lying under a blanket being dowsed with water.  I did not know how badly he was burned until later...later when I found out Robert had died in the fire.  From what I was told by the other actors, Teddy tried to save Robert, but my son was all ready too far gone to be saved."

 

Mary gripped his arm tighter, the sting of tears in her eyes.  "I'm so sorry, James."

 

James patted her hand again and forced himself to maintain control.  "Teddy ended up with a disfigurement that stole his career from him as a result of trying to save my son's life.  Where he once would have outshone Apollo, Teddy now resides in the shadows afraid of showing his face.  Where once he was pleasing to the female eye, he has now become an object of disgust and fear.  But perhaps the most tragic of all...is his mind."

 

Mary tilted her head.  "His mind?"

 

"Yes.  I would advise your Mister Tanner to stay clear of Teddy.  For his own sake, Mary.  I'm not saying Teddy would harm him, but with all that he's been through, I have noticed Teddy is unstable.  Fits of rage are not uncommon with him.  The fine line of balance has turned crooked within him.  Solitude seems to be his only solace.  I would not want the wrath of Chris Larabee to fall on us should anything happen to his friend."

 

Mary fought to think.  This warning had come as a complete surprise to her.  She stared at Hathaway blankly.  "Is...is Mister Marcus a danger to this town?"

 

"No, no, Mary, but if people get too close, something could set him off.  Someone could scream at his appearance, or laugh at him...he knows the risks and he stays in hiding.  He does all he can to keep himself from trouble.  I help him as well.  It would just be erring on the side of caution to tell Mister Tanner to keep his distance."

 

Mary nodded, swallowing hard.  "Yes, yes of course, you're right."

 

"I didn't mean to frighten you, Mary.  Truly, Teddy is no threat.  I will see to that."

 

Mary smiled at her old friend.  "Thank you for telling me this, James.  I will inform Mister Larabee and Vin at once."

 

The clock chimed and they looked over to see that it was half past six.  They stood.  "I must go and check on my harried flock, Mary, and to make sure all is in readiness for tonight's performance."

 

"I'll see you to the door."  Mary hooked her hand through Hathaway's arm and led him out through the newspaper pressroom to the front door.  When she opened the door the bonfires that were lit every night to light the streets were in full blaze and she could see Chris walking down the street to her left.  "There he is, now."  She reached to the peg on the inside of the door for her shawl and closed the Clarion door behind her.  "I'll meet you at the hall tonight, James, I need to talk with Mister Larabee."

 

"Of course, Mary."  Hathaway tipped his hat to her and turned to head down the opposite end of the street.

 

Mary turned and ran to catch up with Chris.  "Mister Larabee?  May I speak with you a moment?"

 

The gunslinger stopped and turned to her.  "Mary?" he tipped his hat. 

 

"I'd like to speak to you...about Vin.  Is he back yet?"

 

"Not yet.  Why?  What about him?"

 

"Well, I've been given some information about Mister Marcus that you both need to be aware of."

 

"Oh?  What information is that?"

 

"Well, according to James, Mister Marcus was horribly burned in the fire of Kansas City last year?"

 

Chris nodded, wondering where Mary was going with this news.  "Vin and I know all about it.  He told us last night when we met him."

 

"Yes, well, he...may not be balanced...Mister Larabee.  If you understand what I'm trying to tell you?"

 

Chris gazed at her with a furrowed brow.  He thought about the actor that had attacked Sarah, the fact that he had lost his ability to tell the real from the fantasy.  But Marcus did not strike Chris as insane, in fact just the opposite.  Marcus seemed to be completely at peace with everything that had happened to him, with the exception of the memory plaguing him.  It was a feeling that Chris understood all too well.  Just because bad memories hold onto a man, didn't make them crazy.  "So Hathaway told you all this?"

 

Mary nodded.  "That's right."

 

"And all you have is his word on it?"

 

"Yes, of course, but he's been a friend of mine for some time now, Mister Larabee.  I would honestly doubt he would lie to me about something so serious.  He suggested that Vin stay away from Marcus...for his own safety."

 

Chris took in a deep breath and looked off down the street to see the tracker himself riding back into town.  "It's about time for you to start getting ready for the play isn't it, Mrs. Travis?"

 

Mary jerked her head back.  From 'Mary' to 'Mrs. Travis' in a single minute?  "I'm sorry if you feel I've interfered, Mister Larabee, but..."

 

"I'll take into consideration what you've told me, Mrs. Travis.  Thank you."  He tipped his hat to her again, then headed off toward where Vin was dismounting in front of the jailhouse.

 

Mary stared off after him, then shook her head in bewilderment.  As she returned to her home she wondered if she would ever be able to figure Chris Larabee out.  Then she wondered if she should even try.

 

++++

 

"Vin?" Chris called out as the tracker started going inside the jailhouse.  Vin turned to see Chris walk up to him.  "Chris.  Ya' be needin' me to scout tonight?"

 

Chris shook his head.  "You can bed Peso down.  No trouble brewing outside of town."

 

Vin untied his horse's reins and started walking to the livery. 

 

Chris fell into step beside him.  "Good ride?"

 

"Always is," Vin nodded.  He looked behind him for a second then gestured with his head.  "Mary all right?"

 

"Fine.  Worried about you, though."

 

Vin jerked a furrowed glance at Chris.  "What fer?"

 

"Hathaway seems to think Marcus may be a bit crazy."

 

Vin smirked.  "The man's saner than you are, Larabee."

 

Chris shrugged.  "Well, I've always trusted your judgment, Vin, least ways most of the time, but...we don't know the whole story behind the fire."

 

Vin shrugged.  "Reckon we could ask."

 

Chris smiled.  "Reckon we could."

 

There was silence between them for a moment.  Then Vin spoke, "Ya' think Hathaway's a lyin' snake?"

 

Chris nodded once.  "Complete with forked tongue."

 

Vin shrugged.  "Well, Chris, ya' know I've always trusted your judgment.  Least ways most of the time."  He cast Chris a playful smile to which the gunslinger chuckled.  "Let's bed your horse down and give the town another once over.  When the play starts we'll fetch Marcus and judge for ourselves."

 

Vin shook his head.  "He may not wanna come outta hidin'."

 

Chris shrugged.  "You could convince him.  Hell, everyone in town is gonna be at the play.  Not like anyone'll see him."

 

"'Cept Dan at the saloon," Vin corrected.

 

"I think we can handle it."

 

"We ain't talkin' 'bout Marcus' sanity anymore...are we."  It was a

comment, not a question.

 

Chris smiled.  "Talkin' a few drinks with a coupla' friends, Vin."

 

Vin returned the smile with a grateful one of his own.  One thing Vin knew...Chris wasn't the type to take a stranger's word over his ability

to judge for himself.

 

++++

 

Marcus was back stage listening to the performance of Hamlet.  Hiding in the shadows, he rested on a chair and leaned his head back.  He closed his one good eye and envisioned himself on the stage reciting the lines of the Bard.  It had been a good turn out.  Sold out performance, with people buying tickets for the next night.  Mostly people had come out tonight to find out who had won the audition contest. 

 

Marcus wondered if Vin had returned yet.  The circumstances of Chris discovering Vin's scars weighed heavily on the former actor's heart.  He pondered over the obvious depth of friendship between the two men.  It was nice to know that someday, with Vin's talent and the friendship he shared with Chris, the young poet would find his place in this world.  'A talent such as his should not go to waste,' he thought.

 

Then he heard a 'psst' coming from his right.  He opened his eye and turned in the direction of the sound.  Vin was standing there, his hat in his hands.  Marcus smiled.  He stood and walked over to the young man.  "Vin, what are you doing here?  Why aren't you out there watching the play?"

 

Vin looked down.  "Rather talk to you."

 

"Have you seen Chris since you got back?"

 

"Yeah.  Said ya' would be back here."

 

"Are you all right, Vin?"

 

Vin looked up.  "Fine.  Chris and I would like to know if'n you'd be willin' to let us buy ya' a drink?"

 

Marcus straightened, obviously unprepared for the invitation.  "Vin, I can't tell you what that means to me, but to go out like this...I'm afraid the townspeople wouldn't understand."

 

"Most of 'em are here, Marcus.  I'll watch out fer ya'."

 

"To go out in public," Marcus seemed lost in the idea.  He was seriously considering it.  "Mister Tanner, it would be a pleasure.  Just let me get my coat and hat."  He walked over to a chair and grabbed his black coat, the one Vin had seen the night before.  He then put on the scarf and hat that hid his face and head.  "They'll be mentioning the winner of the contest at the end of the play.  Do you wish to be here for that?"

 

"Would ya' happen to know who won?"

 

"I believe it was the youth I met last night."

 

Vin's eyes widened.  "JD?  JD won?"

 

"That was the name I heard talked about, yes."

 

Vin grinned.  "Didn't even know he was tryin' out.  Well, hell, if that don't beat all?  How much longer 'till the play winds down?"

 

"About another two hours.  They only just started act one."

 

"Plenty of time fer us to have a few whiskeys."

 

Marcus smiled.  "I never would have considered going into a public place, Vin.  For some reason, though, I don't feel ashamed of my appearance anymore."

 

Vin's grin turned into a smile.  "Glad to hear that, Marcus.  But the only other person there will be the barkeep, Dan.  Chris'll be meetin' us at the saloon."

 

"Then we best not keep him waiting."  He patted Vin on the back and the two left the darkened back stage to head out into the star-lit night.

 

++++

 

The bartender jumped back some at the sight of the man coming through the doors following Chris and Vin.  The three men headed for the bar and Vin put down two coins.  "Bottle of whiskey, Dan, and three glasses if ya' would?"

 

Dan couldn't help staring at Marcus.  The hat and scarf were obviously meant to hide the face, but there were still traces of scars showing.  Dan didn't seem to have heard Vin.

 

Chris reached out and slapped the bartender on the shoulder.  "You

heard the man.  Bottle and three glasses, Dan."

 

Dan still didn't move.

 

Vin leaned against the bar.  "Dan?  Your mama ever tell ya' it ain't polite to stare?"

 

That started Dan out of his shock.  "Uh...right.  Bottle of whiskey and three glasses, coming right up."  He turned and went to retrieve the objects.

 

"Perhaps coming here wasn't such a good idea after all," Marcus sighed.

 

"Marcus, it's like ya' told me, sometimes a man has just got to spread those wings and fly," Vin said.  "Let the ignorant folk live with their ignorance.  Right now I want to share a drink with my friends."

 

"You seem in much better spirits, Vin," Marcus observed.  "It is good to see."

 

Dan set the bottle of whiskey and the three glasses down before Vin.  "Is there anything else?" he asked.

 

"That will be all for this evening, thank you," Marcus said to him as he picked up his glass.  "Oh, and Dan, were you planning on seeing any of the performances?"

 

"I...uh...I wanted to this evening, but..."

 

"Marcus here could give you a reading, Dan," Chris suggested.  "Sort of a hint of what they're doing over at the meeting hall."

 

Dan swallowed.  "You...you could do that for me?"

 

Marcus looked at Chris curiously.  The gunslinger shrugged.  "What could it hurt, Marcus?  I'd like to see some of that talent of yours myself."

 

"You...you're an actor?"  Dan asked in disbelief.

 

"Yes," Vin replied before Marcus could protest.  "He is.  One of the best I've ever seen."

 

"Well, as you can see, the saloon is empty except for you three.  I have time on my hands.  I'd consider it a pleasure to hear anything you have to recite."

 

Vin gently slapped Marcus on the back as he poured the whiskey into the glasses.  "The stage is yours, Marcus."  He and Chris took the glasses and the bottle and went to a nearby table.  Sitting down they made themselves comfortable and Marcus removed his coat.  The actor hesitated before removing his hat and scarf.  He turned to Dan.  "I have been the victim of a tragic fire, Dan.  Will my scars frighten you?"

 

Dan swallowed again.  "No, sir."

 

Marcus slowly removed his hat and then his scarf.  He turned slowly so that Dan would not see him all at once.  When the actor had shown himself to the bartender, Dan's eyes widened.  "Lord Almighty."  Then he remembered himself and cleared his throat.  "I'm sorry, sir.  I ain't never seen a man with scars like yours before."

 

"Quite all right, Dan.  I get that reaction a lot."

 

"Would...would you be doin' somethin' from the play tonight?"

 

"Well, there is something I could quote, a monologue from the play they are doing tonight.  Would that suffice?"

 

Chris lifted his glass to the actor and inclined his head.  "Let's hear it."

 

Marcus turned his back to them and lowered his head.  Silence fell and then Marcus turned to them again.  Completely gone was the man named Marcus with half a face full of burn scars.  In his place was...Hamlet.  "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines.  Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus," at this Marcus waved his hand back and forth in front of him, his tone of voice full of disgust.  Chris and Vin exchanged chuckling smiles. 

 

Marcus continued; "but all gently.  For in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of your passions, you must acquire and beget a temperance, that may give it smoothness.  O, it offends me to the soul, to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings; who, for the most part, are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows, and noise." 

 

Marcus gestured toward the town meeting hall, eliciting more chuckles from his audience; Dan included.  "I would have such a fellow whipped for o'er doing Termagant; it out-herod's Herod.  Pray you, avoid it."

 

Chris turned to Vin at the word 'whipped', but noticed his young friend was entirely engrossed in Marcus' performance to have noticed the reference.  He shook off the worry and continued to listen. 

 

Marcus turned to Vin and pointed at him with the next line: "Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor.  Suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o'er step not the modesty of nature.  For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first, and now, was, and is, to hold, as 't were, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time, his form and pressure. 

 

"Now this, overdone, or come tardy off, though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve.  The censure of which one, must in your allowance, o'er-weigh a whole theater of others.  O, there be players, that I have seen play, and heard others praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely, that, neither having the accent of Christians, nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so strutted, and bellowed, that I have thought some of nature's journeymen had made men, and not made them well, they imitated humanity so abominably."  With these last words, Marcus bowed with a sweep of his hand.

 

Vin and Chris applauded and Vin even let out a whistle. 

 

Dan came out from behind the bar and reached out a hand, his face aglow with delight, "Sir, that was one fine performance.  I have read Hamlet before, but I can honestly say you brought the words alive to me.  Thank you for that."

 

Chris and Vin stood and went up to Marcus who smiled with modesty. 

 

"It has been a long time, Dan.  Thank you for allowing me the opportunity."

 

"Could you do any more for us?"

 

"I could, but I am here at the invitation of Mister Tanner and Mister Larabee."  He looked at them questioningly.

 

"Don't pay us no mind, Marcus," Vin said.  "Perform all ya' want."

 

Chris shrugged.  "It's a quiet night." 

 

"Well then, I would indeed enjoy entertaining you all."

 

Dan joined Chris and Vin at the table and Marcus continued to entertain until he looked at his pocket watch and mentioned it was time for the winner to be announced. 

 

Dan looked at the saloon.  "I should stay here and set up for when the play lets out."

 

"Are you certain you cannot leave this place for even a few minutes to see one of your own receive the accolades of his peers?"

 

"I really can't, Mister Marcus.  I'm sure I'll read all about it in the paper."

 

Marcus smiled and held out his hand, which Dan shook with genuine appreciation.  "You are truly a master of the art, Mister Marcus.  Thank you for sharing your talent with me tonight."

 

"Don't mention it, my friend."

 

"You come by any time.  I'll have a glass of whiskey waiting for you."

 

Vin smiled at Marcus, pleased that Dan had been truly sincere in his acceptance of the scarred man. 

 

"I'll do that, Dan.  Thank you."  Marcus tipped his hat to the bartender and followed Chris and Vin out of the saloon.

 

Chris clapped Marcus on the back.  "Wasn't as bad as you thought it would be, was it?"

 

"No, Mister Larabee, indeed it was not.  I have not felt this welcome in a town in years."

 

"Ya' deserve it, Marcus.  People need to see who ya' really are, not what ya' look like," Vin said.

 

"Ah, sort of like... 'I'm not the way they see me.  Not who they think I am.  I'm just a man', Vin?"

 

Vin lowered his head, a grin crossing his lips.  "Good memory."

 

"A good memory is a good thing for an actor to have."

 

"Good point."

 

Marcus chuckled.  "Thank you, my friends.  I have not enjoyed such good company in a very long time."

 

The three reached the back of the meeting hall and entered through the door, leading to the back of the stage.  They reached the area behind the backdrop just in time to hear Hathaway call out the winner of the contest.  "Will Mister JD Dunne come to the stage and collect his twenty dollars?"

 

Shouts and applause could be heard by all in the room, but no one shouted harder or louder than Buck Wilmington.  Vin and Chris poked their heads out to see the audience on their feet giving the 'Kid' a standing ovation.  Vin smiled with warmth as JD approached Hathaway and took the twenty-dollar bill.  The Kid's face was full of astonishment and delight as he waved the bill in the air.  "It's poker tonight, fellas!" he yelled out as he shook Hathaway's hand.

 

More shouts and applause filled the hall.

 

Chris chuckled and shook his head.  "If that don't beat all."

 

Vin and Marcus exchanged knowing smiles.

 

++++

 

Backstage, when the play was over, Hathaway brought Mary to meet the other actors.  Marcus stayed in the shadows.  As Mary began to converse with the actors and praise them for a wonderful performance, Hathaway saw the stage manager as he turned a corner into hiding.  "Excuse me, Mary.  There is something I must attend to.  I will leave you in the capable hands of Mister MacLeod and Miss Stewart."

 

"All right, James," Mary replied and turned to the two actors in front of her.  "I was deeply moved by both your performances tonight," she said.

 

Cynthia Stewart took Mary's hand and smiled.  "Thank you, Mrs. Travis.  It was an exhilarating night, wasn't it?"

 

Their words faded from Hathaway's ears as he searched the back of the stage for Marcus.  "Teddy," he whispered. 

 

Marcus emerged from a stack of crates.  "Mister Hathaway?"

 

"Where the hell were you tonight?  You're underlings had to compensate for your absence.  You had a job to do and you disappeared.  The play would have been ruined."

 

Marcus lowered his head.  "I built the stage, Mister Hathaway, I set up the props.  The assistant managers know their job."

 

"That doesn't excuse the fact that you took off during a performance!"  Hathaway had to force himself to keep his voice down.  "I will not tolerate such blatant disrespect for this troupe, Teddy.  Where did you go?  Spending some time with that Tanner boy?"  Hathaway's voice took on a sneer.  "You going to do to him what you did to Robert?  I won't have it, Teddy."

 

Marcus clenched his fists.  "Vin Tanner happens to be a man.  Young, yes, but still a man.  Robert was na´ve even for his age."

 

"So, that's it, isn't it?  You're making friends with Tanner?"

 

Marcus continued looking down.  He hated meeting Hathaway's eyes.  They were filled with hatred and disgust. 

 

"Now you listen to me, you low-life.  You are not to leave this hall for any reason unless I give you permission.  Is that perfectly clear?  You have a job to do...a debt to pay to me...and I will not tolerate rebellion.  Especially from the likes of you, you bastard."  Hathaway grabbed Marcus' shirt and brought him to within an inch of his face.  "You hearing me?"

 

Marcus remained calm.  He had been subjected to such reprimands before.  This was nothing new to him.  "I understand, Mister Hathaway."

 

Hathaway let Marcus go and stepped back, straightening his coat.  "We are here at the invitation of Mary Travis.  I will not stand to have her insulted by unprofessional behavior."

 

Marcus said nothing.  His gaze remained on the floor. 

 

Hathaway loosened his collar and cleared his throat.  "Very well, then.  It might behoove you to remember your place, Teddy.  Remember it well."  He turned and walked back into the mass of actors and put on his air of friendliness once again. 

 

Marcus stayed in the shadows and gazed out at Cynthia Stewart who laughed with delight at a joke Hathaway said.  Mary Travis was laughing as well.  How he longed to be a part of the laughter again...but Hathaway would see to it he never would.  Where Theater was once his world...it was now his prison.

 

Marcus swallowed.  It would do no good to reason with Hathaway.  It was no secret to the actor that Hathaway blamed him for the fire that cost the life of his son.  Hathaway's first words to him once Marcus had regained consciousness had been; "Why couldn't you have died instead of Robert?"  And then there were the other things Hathaway had told him.  Things Marcus chose to forget, for he could do nothing about the fire or Robert dying.  He could do nothing at all.

 

If truth were told, Hathaway didn't keep Marcus on because of his sensitivity to the actor's plight...but to hobble him in the metaphorical sense.  Hathaway knew Marcus had no place to go; that his world was his art and that acting had been his only trade. 

 

"You think anyone will want you the way you look, Teddy?  Do you think you can go through the rest of your life thinking you won't frighten people?  It's best you stay with the troupe.  You can still work.  Maybe not for the pay you got as an actor, but at least it'll be a job and you won't be begging out on the street."

 

Marcus had been so devastated by the fire and the loss of his friend that Hathaway's words only served to seal the tortured pain in his heart.  The prideful actor once known as Theodore Marcus had been humbled, but Hathaway had taken the humbling further than God ever intended it to go.  But God has a way of using evil and turning it around for good.  If the troupe leader had not kept Marcus on, using guilt and fear as chains to keep his prisoner from bolting, Marcus never would have met Vin Tanner or Chris Larabee.  Such meetings could only be ordained from the Creator, and the bitter man before him, who never let Marcus forget his costly error in befriending Robert Hathaway, was another of the foolish things that God used to confound the wise.

 

He closed his eye and thought back to a few hours before, with Vin and Chris and the barkeep Dan.  For a few hours he had been given a reprieve and he had savored it.  Vin held the key to unlock the door for him.  If only he could bury the past and start fresh.  Vin gave him hope that he could do that.  But that hope was short lived as he turned and saw his image in a mirror.  He gazed at himself long and hard and suddenly he was back in his prison cell again.  "Start fresh," he snickered.  "Vin and Chris may accept you," he told his reflection.  "But they are only two in this entire world.  Enjoy the reprieve...for it won't last long." 

 

++++

(TBC in Part 3)

 

Click here for Part 3

Enter supporting content here