"To Soar Above The Clouds"
Vin sat in the front row chair,
leaning forward, intent on catching every word from the player's mouths.
Chris leaned back in his chair
beside Vin and rested his arms on the backs of the chairs to his sides. Ezra sat beside Vin and Nathan sat beside Chris.
They were engrossed as 'The Scottish Play' was performed in front of them.
When Marcus took center stage
and performed the Dagger of the Mind speech, JD, Buck and Josiah watched from the side of the stage. JD's eyes were
wide with wonder. Buck grinned down at him. The youth was star struck; there was no denying it.
At the end of the speech,
Marcus bowed, signaling the end of the performance and those sitting stood with loud applause and cheers. JD ran out
and took Marcus' hand, shaking it enthusiastically. "That was...that was so...so..."
"Spectacular?" Josiah assisted.
"Yes!" JD said. "That
"What the hell do you think
you're doing?" The enraged voice forced them all to stop their applause. They turned to see Hathaway standing
there in the aisle, his hands on his hips and a very angry scowl on his face. "Teddy, you have no right to be on that
stage doing what you're doing. You were hired to set up the stage. I suggest you stop this farce and get on with your
Marcus frowned. His
shoulders sagged. He gestured to the men surrounding him. "I'm sorry, Mister Hathaway. These gentlemen just
wanted to see me perform."
"Yes, sir," JD spoke up with
determination. "We did."
"Well, Gentlemen, I'm afraid
I must ask you all to leave. Teddy has work to do. The stage cannot dress itself." The look in Hathaway's
eyes was none too pleased.
Vin approached him.
"Mister Hathaway, we're the ones who distracted Marcus. If'n ya' permit, we can help him with the stage."
Hathaway glared at him with
slit eyes. "Mister Tanner, is it?"
Vin nodded. "That's
Hathaway studied him, none
too kindly. "Ah, so you're the one who's been pulling my stage manager away from his duties. I admire your poetic
talent, Mister Tanner, but not enough to see you interfere with the duties of my people. Marcus knows his responsibilities
and performing is not part of his job." He looked over at the actor, anger in his gaze. "I suggest you get to
work immediately, Teddy, or I will assign a new stage manager to this troupe."
"Now wait just a damn minute!"
Vin stepped up closer to Hathaway. "Ya' can't speak to him like that. He ain't done nothin' wrong fer ya' to treat
"Vin," Marcus called out.
"Let it go. He is, after all, my boss."
"Yes, Teddy. I am your
boss," Hathaway said, looking back to him, a forced smile on his face. "You can perform all you want, but not on this
stage, and not on my time. Get to work." Hathaway turned and headed back toward the exit.
Vin started to storm off after
him. "It's our fault! Ya' want to yell at someone, yell at us!"
Chris reached out and took
Vin's arm. "Calm down, Vin."
Vin looked at Chris, anger
filling his eyes. "He can't treat Marcus like that."
"Yes, he can, Vin. Unfortunately,
being Marcus' boss allows him the right to reprimand."
"Maybe so, but intentionally
humiliatin' him? In front of us?"
Marcus had by this time left
the stage and approached them. "Vin, I appreciate your concern, but Mister Hathaway is right. I need to be doing
my job in preparing the stage for tonight's performance. Now, I am ever grateful to you all for giving me another chance
to perform on stage, but the curtain has fallen and it is time for me to get on with my life, such as it is."
"We'll help you, Marcus,"
JD said. "Hathaway didn't exactly say we couldn't."
"That's right. Most
of us are pretty good with hammers and nails and such," Josiah said. "Just tell us what to do."
"Right," Vin said. "We'll
have this stage lookin' so purty, Hathaway will have to give ya' a raise."
Marcus looked at each of the
men with astonishment. "I can't take you all away from your duties."
"Eight pairs of hands, Mister
Marcus, as opposed to one...why, I believe we will have this stage set to rights within an hours time...two at the most,"
"You're volunteering to help
with physical labor, Ez?" Nathan asked with a snicker. "Never thought I'd see the day."
"Mister Jackson, it's the
least I can do after that wonderful performance Mister Marcus bestowed upon us."
"Man's got a point," Chris
said to Marcus. "Consider our help compensation for the entertainment."
"Well, now, I must say I never
expected such generosity." Marcus nodded with resolve. "Very well, then. Let's get to work. JD, if
you and Vin will go back stage, there are toolboxes that need to be brought forward. Mister Sanchez, if you and Mister
Wilmington will follow me I can show you what lumber needs to be carried out." He turned to Chris, Ezra and Nathan.
"I can show you three what other supplies need to be brought out, paint, paint brushes, that type of thing."
"Let's get to it," Vin said,
and they all set to work.
The work did in fact take
only ninety minutes. Harding had brought the supplies as promised and the craftsman and art skills of all involved were
put to use. The stage was ready by the time Hathaway returned.
The owner of the troupe inspected
the stage with a bewildered expression. "Everything is just the way it should be. I must say, Teddy, I'm surprised."
"In all honesty, Mister Hathaway,
it was these seven men who assisted me."
Hathaway looked at all of
the men. His smile was forced again. Chris and Vin exchanged looks. Watching people for as long as they
had, they learned to read body language well. Hathaway was furious and he was trying to hide it under false politeness.
"That's right," Buck said.
"Since we got him in trouble it was only fitting we get him out of it."
"I see. Very...honorable
of you men." The tension did not ease from Hathaway's body. His jaw was clenched. Vin and Chris squared
JD watched the two and knew
something wasn't right. They only stood like that when trouble was going to come down. He exchanged glances with
Buck who nodded once to him. The scoundrel had noticed the chill drop in the atmosphere as well.
Josiah was all ready standing
his ground, his arms crossed in front of him. Ezra was leaning against the edge of the stage floor, casually flicking
away lint from his red jacket with his right hand. Nathan was standing beside him and shook his head with disbelief.
Hathaway, though being involved with actors, did not seem able to control his emotions to the point of believability.
"Honor ain't got nothin' to
do with it, Mister Hathaway," Vin said, in his quite and calm voice. "It was pure gratitude for Marcus sharin' his talent
"That's right," JD said, stepping
forward. "And if you ask me you should put Marcus back on stage."
Hathaway managed a strained
smile at the youth. "Mister Dunne, I assure you, you have not the slightest clue as to how the acting business works."
"Sure we do," Buck said, leaning
back against the stage next to Ezra and folding his arms over his chest. The look he gave Hathaway reminded JD of the
look Buck had given him the day he had entered the Seminole village, the day he had first met the rest of the Seven.
A look of wisdom graced with a smile. "You depend on appearances and physical beauty to bedazzle and mesmerize the audience
so that they'll pay more money to see more shows. After all, we all like to look at pretty things and handsome settings.
But when was the last time we all looked under the surface to find the diamond in a chunk of coal?"
Hathaway looked as if he was
trying hard to control his temper. "Mister Wilmington, the stage is a place of beauty because the world is in a perpetual
state of ugliness. People come here to escape that ugliness and to feast their eyes on what is desired in their lives.
On the stage that desire becomes tangible."
"Tangible?" Chris said.
"You see a false display and call it tangible?"
"Well maybe not in a literal
sense, Mister Larabee, but the effect is enough to see people through another day of mundane tasks and reality."
"And what about the beauty
of the heart?" Vin asked. "That to me sounds a more real substance than your false and ugly tangible one."
"And what would you know of
ugliness, Mister Tanner? You with the face of Adonis."
Vin tensed. He clenched
his hands into fists. Chris stepped forward, knowing exactly what was going through his friend's mind. He touched
Vin's arm to calm him, but Vin jerked away. He glared at Hathaway and snarled through his teeth. "No words can
reach you, Hathaway, 'cause ya' don't know how to listen." He turned and stormed off to the back of the stage.
The sound of a door opening and closing with a crash caused Marcus to close his eyes in sorrow.
Chris turned on Hathaway his
eyes glaring with rage. "Now I know why I don't like you, Hathaway. For your information that man has lived through
more ugliness than you will ever allow yourself to see. Yet he still can see the beauty of a sunset. He can breathe
in the air around him and savor every scent of the flowers and trees. He can look at a man with scars," he pointed to
Marcus, "and see beyond the surface to the heart beneath. He is more an expert on beauty than you will ever be.
Not because his face is beautiful, but because he can see past what you call ugly. Marcus may have a disfigured face,
but your heart is withered and dried up, while his is still pure and alive!" Chris jabbed his finger into Hathaway's
shoulder and pushed him out of the way as he turned and headed after Vin.
Everyone just stared after
him, their mouths dropping to the floor. "I have never heard Chris speak so much in one sitting in the entire time I've
known him," Buck said with awe.
"That's because he had something
to say," Josiah said.
When Chris reached the outside
he found Vin leaning his shoulder against the corner of the building gazing out past the alley into the main street of town.
The blond man approached him and rested a hand on his shoulder. "You all right?"
Vin sighed, shaking his head.
"I just don't understand people, sometimes, Chris."
"Oh, I don't know about that.
Seems to me you have Hathaway pretty much pegged."
Vin allowed a snicker.
"Yeah, but what I don't understand...why can't people just accept people for who they are? Seems to me lots of people
turn mean to each other because no one bothers to take the time to accept 'em...to get to know 'em."
Chris squeezed his shoulder.
"And it seems to me it'll be people like you and Marcus to teach us how to do that, Vin."
Vin looked down for a moment,
kicking the ground with the toe of his boot. "Maybe. But why do people have to be taught that at all?"
Chris shrugged. "Because...they're
ignorant and prideful, Vin. That's what it all boils down to."
Vin allowed a shrug himself.
A silence formed between the
two friends and Vin looked down. "I want to apologize fer what happened on the street earlier."
Chris kept his hand on Vin's
shoulder, knowing the physical contact was necessary at that moment. "You were thinking of Calder, weren't you?" he
Vin nodded. "I saw that
guy whippin' Marcus and I just had to stop him."
Chris sighed. "I kinda
figured that was the reason. You couldn't stop Calder from whipping you, but you could stop Marcus from being hurt."
Vin shut his eyes. "I
don't know why I went off so violently, though."
"Bad memories come at us in
different ways, Vin. I've gone off a time or two, myself. I don't have to tell you that. You've seen it."
Vin lifted his gaze, but did
not look at Chris. He nodded. "If ya' hadn't been there today..." he let the thought trail off.
Chris squeezed his shoulder
one more time and then removed it. "Don't think about it anymore, Pard. Try to let it go."
Vin did not reply. Chris
knew, though, that the advice would go unheeded. Vin wasn't the type to react violently like that and not be haunted
by his actions. The blond man just hoped that Vin would know he had friends who understood. "Why don't you take
the day off? Take Marcus and leave town for awhile. His work's done for the day, and the rest of us can cover
for you on patrol."
Vin nodded. "I could
stand to get away for a few hours."
Chris clapped Vin on the back
and headed on down the alley toward the street. Vin sighed, then wondered...did Marcus have a horse? Or even still...did
the man know how to ride?
Hathaway straightened his
tie after Chris had left and had the decency to look mollified. "Well, if you all will excuse me...I have tickets to
sell." He turned and started heading down the isle toward the front of the meeting hall, when JD stopped him.
The youth reached into his
pocket and pulled out a wad of money. "Here's your damn contest money, Mister Hathaway, minus the money I used to buy
drinks last night. I don't care anymore that you chose me to win. And I won't be there at the play tonight to
perform the piece that helped me win. If acting is this cold and ruthless and empty...then it's nothing I want to be
a part of." JD turned and headed back to the others.
Buck wrapped an arm around
JD's shoulders and pulled him tightly to his side. A smile of pride beamed from his face. "Well done, Kid.
"I concur, Mister Dunne.
A most excellent speech," Ezra said.
Hathaway gazed at all of them
with bewilderment. Shaking his head in disgust he pocketed the crumpled wad of bills and headed out of the auditorium.
Marcus sighed heavily.
"I can't help but feel responsible for all this. I'm terribly sorry for any hostility that..."
"Mister Marcus," Josiah said.
"You have nothing to apologize for. The truth, once spoken, can sometimes be hard to look at, for many times it does
"If anyone's at fault it's
me," JD said. "I shouldn't have butted my nose in where it didn't belong, telling Hathaway to put you back on stage.
I apologize, Mister Marcus."
"JD, did you speak those words
from your heart?" Marcus asked.
"Yes, sir. I did."
"Then as far as I'm concerned
I thank you from the bottom of mine and there is nothing to apologize for. I thank you all for everything you have done
for me today." Marcus lowered his head and walked backstage.
The rest of the seven looked
at each other. "Gentlemen, I believe we have duties of our own to perform. Mister Tanner and Mister Marcus will
work this out between themselves. With some assistance from Mister Larabee, I presume."
"Perhaps I can assist as well,
Ezra," Josiah said as he headed to the back of the meeting hall, following after Chris and Vin.
JD looked at Buck. "Where's
"Never you mind. I think
Judge Travis has some paper work for you to do, doesn't he?"
"Yeah, but..." JD pointed
"But, but, but, but nothing.
Come on, Kid. Let's get on with the... 'UGLINESS OF LIFE OUTSIDE THE STAGE'!" Buck spoke out loud, hoping Hathaway would
hear the mocking tone.
"Mister Wilmington, really,
how uncouth. We are treading on the sacred ground of act-tors," Ezra dramatized as they passed Hathaway in the foyer.
Nathan and JD snickered as
they passed the troupe leader. Then JD straightened and slugged Buck in the arm. "Sometimes, Buck, I swear you're
just an over grown kid."
"Takes one to know one," Buck
said swiping his hand over JD's head, stealing his hat and running down the street.
"Buck! Buck! You
give that back!"
Ezra and Nathan laughed as
JD ran down the street after Buck.
Josiah met Vin coming in through
the back door of the hall and the preacher looked at him with worry. "Are you all right, Brother Vin?"
"Yeah, Josiah. Chris
suggested Marcus and I take a ride out of town, sort of get away and all. I was on my way to ask Marcus if he owned
Josiah put his arm around
Vin's shoulders. "Let's ask him together, and if he doesn't he is more than welcome to borrow mine."
Vin shot him a small smile.
"Ya' sure ya' won't be needin' yours today?"
"With all the work on the
church I have yet to do, Vin, I'll be lucky if that horse will make it out of his stall before Christmas."
Vin's smile grew. "Much
"Consider it my way of showing
support for the arts."
As it turned out, Marcus did
not own a horse and was very grateful for the opportunity to leave town for the day. He put on his scarf and hat and
followed Vin and Josiah out the back way toward the livery. Vin took the lead with Josiah bringing up the rear in order
to make sure Marcus would not be seen.
Inside the livery, Marcus
took the time to approach Josiah's horse and acquaint himself with the animal. "Solomon has taken to you, Marcus," Josiah
said as he placed the saddle over his horse's back.
"I seem to have a way with
animals," Marcus said as he placed one hand under Solomon's chin and gently caressed the top of his muzzle.
Josiah looked over to see
Vin hard at work saddling and bridling Peso. He stepped up closer to Marcus and whispered, "As well as quiet trackers."
Marcus looked over at Vin
and nodded. "Believe me, Josiah, Vin has touched my heart as well. You all have. I can't thank you enough
for giving me your horse to use today."
Josiah continued to cinch
up the saddle. "My pleasure, Marcus. He's big, but he's gentle."
"Like his master?"
"Well, in that respect he's
big, but the gentle part comes easy to him. I have to nurture mine."
"Seems to me ya' do all right,
Josiah," Vin said as he wrapped his saddle cinch into a knot.
Josiah grinned. "And
you are an optimist, Vin. Where do you think you'll be heading out to on this fine day?"
"If there's trouble y'all
can find us at Shepherd's Rock. Ya' don't mind, do ya'?"
Josiah jerked his head to
one side indicating a negative response. "Not at all, Vin."
"Why would you mind, Josiah?"
"Josiah named the place we're
goin' to. Said it reminded him of a paintin' he saw of Christ with a flock of sheep."
"I go out there when the pressure
of responsibility gets too much. It's peaceful, it's beautiful, and it's a perfect spot to think of what's
"Sounds to me like it was
aptly named. I am anxious to see it."
"You'll like it, Marcus.
I know it," Vin said as he took Peso by the reins and started leading him out of the livery. "We'll head out the back
of town, so no one will see us."
Marcus nodded as Josiah placed
a canteen of water over the saddle horn and handed Marcus the reins. "He's bit trained so you shouldn't have any problems."
The three men left the livery
out the back way and mounted. Vin held out his hand to Josiah and the preacher clasped it. "Vin, Marcus, may the
wind be at your backs today."
Marcus held out his hand and
Josiah shook it. "Thank you for the horse, Josiah. He truly is a magnificent animal."
"That he is. Enjoy the
day, both of you."
Vin turned Peso and headed
off out of town toward the nearest hill. Marcus followed. Josiah watched and judging from the way Marcus sat a
saddle, he was a skilled horseman. He couldn't help the smile and turned to head back to the church.
On his way there he met Chris.
"They take off?"
"Indeed they did. Shepherd's
Rock if we find we need Vin's help."
"I think the only trouble
brewing is with Mary. Seems JD left Hathaway high and dry for tonight."
"That he did, Brother Chris,
that he did," Josiah said, a little gloating mixed in as he hooked his thumbs into his vest pockets.
Chris nodded. "Uh-huh,
care to tell me what else happened?"
Josiah slowed his pace down
until he stopped, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Let's see now. I believe he gave the money back as well.
Said he didn't want to be associated with the likes of Hathaway and his way of business."
Chris nodded again.
Josiah grinned, a mischievous
gleam in his eye. "Seems you're not the only one who can make a speech when the need arises."
Chris forced himself to stifle
the chuckle that threatened to spill out of him.
Josiah filled the need for
him, which caused Chris to give up the fight. "Wish I could have seen that one, Josiah."
"As the Bible says, out of
the mouths of babes."
"Oh, don't let JD hear you
"Never. I value my sanity
as well as my life. Now, then, what of the lovely Mrs. Travis? Hathaway is a friend of hers, after all, and so
Chris shrugged. "Let
them work it out. I never wanted the actors here to begin with."
"True, but if they hadn't
come, Vin never would have met the great Theodore Marcus."
Chris stopped walking and
bit his lower lip in thought. "You know
something, Josiah? I
hate it when you're right."
Josiah chuckled again.
"JD, please reconsider.
The people are turning their tickets back in simply because most of them wanted to hear your recital tonight," Mary pleaded
from inside her Clarion newspaper office.
Ezra, Nathan and Buck were
standing by the door their hats in their hands, listening to Mary try to smooth things over with the youth. JD stood
in front of her desk, his face set. "I'm sorry, Mary, I mean no disrespect to you, but after seeing the way he treated
Mister Marcus today...it just goes against my grain to be party to such blatant...disrespect...ma'am," he quickly added, knowing
he was close to losing his temper.
"Well what if Mister Hathaway
apologized for his...apparent...blunder, JD, would that suffice enough for you to change your mind?"
"It ain't me he has to apologize
The door opened and Chris
and Josiah walked in. Chris nodded to Mary as he removed his hat. "Came to talk to JD for a minute."
"Please do, Mister Larabee.
I can't seem to be getting through to him."
"Oh, don't misunderstand me,"
Chris spoke out softly. "I'm not doing this for Hathaway or his troupe. I'm doing this for JD, Marcus...and for
"For Vin? Mister Larabee,
I thought you would be explaining to Vin the danger of..."
"If there's any danger, Mary,
I believe it would be in bearing false witness. That would be Hathaway's mistake, not Marcus'."
"With all due respect, Mister
Larabee, James has known Marcus a lot longer than either you or Vin."
"And Marcus is the one responsible
for starting that fire that killed Hathaway's son. Even though it was an accident, he still blames Marcus. Wouldn't
that constitute a degree of prejudice on his part?"
Mary crossed her arms in front
of her chest. "I suppose if anyone would know it would be you, Mister Larabee."
Buck lowered his head, shutting
his eyes in sorrow. That was the wrong thing to say to the gunslinger.
Chris glared at the woman.
Mary suddenly realized what
she said and she paled. "Mister Larabee, I'm sorry. Please, I didn't mean that..."
Chris turned away from her
and took JD by the shoulder, leading him out of the Clarion and onto the porch.
Mary lowered her head.
"I honestly didn't mean to say that."
"Mrs. Travis, I admire your
desire to have faith in your friends," Josiah said softly. "But you must practice that faith wisely, or it will blind
you." He tipped his
hat to her and started for the door.
They all stopped and turned
to her. "I must ask...do you all believe that strongly that Vin is safe with Mister Marcus?"
"As safe as he would be with
Chris or any of us, Ma'am," Buck replied.
"Can you be sure, though?"
she asked, truly desiring assurance from them.
"We've met him, Mrs. Travis,"
Nathan said. "Have you?"
Mary sighed. It was
clear she was ashamed. "It seems if you all think that highly of him and what he's doing for Vin, then I must meet the
man as well. And that I must look more closely in the mirror to see what other faults lay within."
Josiah walked up to her and
held out his hand. She reached out and he grasped hers, squeezing it gently. He leaned down and kissed it, giving
her a wink.
Buck, Ezra and Nathan tipped
their hats to her and smiled. She had gained their forgiveness for her rude comment, but the one she really needed to
ask it from was the man standing outside talking with JD.
"JD, I want you to reconsider
"Chris! You can't mean
that! After the way that man degraded Mister Marcus in front of us? After the way he talked down to Vin?"
"I know what he did, JD, but
like I told Mary, I'm not asking you to do this for Hathaway, not even for me...but for Vin's sake as well as your own.
And for Marcus' sake."
"How can my reciting tonight
help Vin and Marcus?"
"You'll be doing what Marcus
is unable to do because of his appearance. You'll be bringing words alive on stage. Vin can't do it because like
he said once, he gets all nervous. But you, JD," Chris put a hand to the youth's shoulder and squeezed it, looking him
square in the eyes. "You can make them both proud as well as the rest of us."
"Us? You won't be there,
you hate performers."
"I'll be there, JD, if only
to hear you recite."
JD's eyes went wide.
"You will? Honestly?"
Chris nodded. "I'll
be back stage with Vin and Marcus, but I'll be there. It may not change anything with Hathaway and the way he views
the business, but..."
"It'll sure feel good knowing
someone on that stage is doing it for the right reasons," JD finished for him.
Chris smiled and nodded.
JD turned to Buck who was
just walking out the door, followed by the others. The mustached man nodded to him in encouragement to follow whatever
it was Chris was telling him to do. He turned to see Mary through the window looking back at him with sorrow in her
eyes. He squared his shoulders. "All right, Chris, but only because it's for us and Marcus."
Chris held out his hand and
JD shook it. The gunslinger turned and headed for the jailhouse.
JD started to go back inside
the Clarion when Josiah pulled him away. "I'd like to say something to you, JD, if that would be all right?"
"Sure, Josiah, what is it?"
The preacher put a hand on
the youth's shoulder and sighed heavily. "If Buck came to you and said something, and you trusted that he was
telling you the truth...and
if someone else, say a brand new friend you'd come to know, came to you later and said the exact opposite of what Buck had
told you. Would you not stand in defense of Buck?"
JD looked appalled.
"Of course I would."
"Why? Because he's my
friend. How could I not trust him?"
Josiah grinned. 'JD,'
he thought, 'God love ya'.' He continued. "When you go in and talk to Mary, carry that information with you.
She wants to trust us, but she also wishes to trust Mister Hathaway because he is also her friend. Right now she is
JD sighed. "Maybe so,
Josiah, but she didn't have to say what she said to Chris."
"No, son, she didn't.
And she's regretting that slip of the tongue greatly. She and Chris will work it out when the time is right, but for
right now, just focus on what you need to do and
remember where Mary is coming from. All right?"
JD was thoughtful for a moment
then he nodded. "I understand, Josiah. I will."
Josiah patted his shoulder
once. "Good man."
JD smiled at him and continued
on into the Clarion.
Buck went up to Josiah.
"What did you tell him?"
"Helped him put the shoe on
the other foot, Buck. That's all."
When the door opened Mary
looked up. "JD?"
"Mary," he pulled his hat
from his head and walked in, closing the door behind him. "I apologize if I came off angry a few minutes ago."
"That's all right, JD.
I understand why."
"I wanted you to know that
I'll go ahead and do the recital tonight, but only for Marcus and Vin and us. I can't do it for Hathaway. I just
Mary nodded. "I understand,
JD. Thank you."
JD nodded and walked out of
Mary watched him go and felt
a sadness creep into her. Was Josiah right? Had her faith in James blinded her to the truth?
Outside the Clarion, unseen
due to being hid by the building, James listened as Chris and the young JD Dunne spoke. His anger welled up inside of
him. Marcus had made friends of these men and they would inspire the actor to rebel against him. This whole year
he had kept Marcus on a short leash, keeping him under control. Now with these men in his life and especially that Vin
Tanner, Marcus would think he could do anything again, have a life again. That was something that Hathaway simply could
not stomach. He would put an end to this once and for all. He would find a way.
Josiah and Buck walked into
the jailhouse to see Chris sitting at the desk reading the newspaper articles again. "Chris?" Buck said as he walked
"What is it now?"
"It's Mary," Josiah said.
"She truly regrets what she said to you back there."
"Yeah, Chris, she does," Buck
chimed in. "She wants to meet Marcus. She knows she spoke brashly."
"Spoke," Chris smirked.
"It seems we're all getting lessons on the use of words these past few days, ain't we?"
"Can you find it in your heart
to forgive her, Chris?" Josiah asked.
Chris sighed as he leaned
back in his chair. "She really wants to meet Marcus?"
"Yes, she said so herself,"
the preacher replied.
"Then as soon as he and Vin
get back from Shepherd's Rock, she'll have the opportunity. I'll introduce her to him myself."
"Is that...a type of forgiveness?"
Buck asked, cautiously.
Chris looked at him and his
expression revealed nothing. "It's all I'm willing to give at this moment."
Josiah nodded. "It's
a start, Chris."
The two men left the jailhouse
and Chris watched them leave. Then he saw Hathaway come his way. "Now what?" he muttered. He really didn't
want to deal with that man right now.
He leaned back in his chair
and propped his feet on the desk. Then he pulled out his pocketknife and picked up the piece of wood on the desk he
used for whittling. He began to carve and braced himself for what was to come.
Sure enough Hathaway stormed
in, flustered and his face was red from anger. "You cannot allow this farce to continue, Mister Larabee. I'm telling
you, Teddy Marcus is a dangerous man. I've seen how you all have taken a shine to him. Please, believe me, I know
how he is. He gains your trust one moment, then the next he is capable of killing. You wouldn't want anything
to happen to your friend would you, Mister Larabee? Marcus is unpredictable. Your friend could look at Marcus
wrong and he could fly into a murderous rage causing your friend severe bodily injury."
Mary came in before Chris
could answer this accusation on Marcus' behalf. "James, what are you doing here?"
"I'm trying to stop these
men from blindly putting their faith in a man who could kill one of them with his bare hands!" The desperation in Hathaway's
face pierced Mary's heart and she turned to Chris, all thoughts of seeing both sides of the story driven from her mind.
If James was so determined to get his point of view across, there had to be some truth to his claims. "Mister Larabee,
can't you see how James is only trying to help us?"
"He's trying to turn us against
Marcus!" Chris almost shouted and he stood up in anger, slamming the piece of wood down on his desk. He glared at Hathaway
and pointed his finger at him. "If you have a problem with Vin seeing Marcus then you talk
to him! Don't go sneaking behind a man's back, spreading two-faced rumors about a man that none of us believe would
hurt a fly, let alone a human being. And from what I've seen...all we have is your word on the way Marcus is.
And right now, that is not good enough."
Hathaway took a moment to
regain his composure. "I'm trying to help you see..."
"Help me see, Hathaway?" Chris
sneered. "If you had seen what I saw this morning you would know you have no leg to stand on."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm surprised you haven't
heard about it. Five cowhands roughed up Marcus pretty good this morning right outside the hardware store. And
if he was as dangerous as you say he is, then he would have fought back, but he didn't. He just took it from them.
We managed to stop him from being hurt bad, but he didn't raise a finger against them. That's your dangerous man for
you, Hathaway." Chris took his hat and walked around the desk heading out the door.
Mary was torn. She looked
at Hathaway then she headed after Chris. "Mister Larabee, please...wait."
"Not now, Mary!" Chris seethed
and he kept on walking. Damn, but he needed a drink. And fast.
Mary stopped following him
and watched him head off further and further away. She lowered her head. "Well, Mary Travis, you've certainly
messed up things between the two of you. Aren't you proud of yourself?"
"Mary?" Hathaway's voice
came to her and she turned to see him walking toward her with concern. "Are you all right?"
"Please, James. Just
leave me alone."
"You do believe me...don't
you?" he asked with trepidation.
She shook her head.
"All I believe right now is that I should never have invited you and your actors to this town. I'm sorry, James."
She turned and headed back to her office, leaving Hathaway staring after her with sorrow. He clenched his fists and
stormed back to the meeting hall. He knew what he had to do. Marcus had succeeded in destroying his life once.
He would not succeed again.
The two men pulled their horses
to a stop near a green field with a huge boulder sitting in the middle of it. "Here it is," Vin said, leaning his arm
against his saddle horn and taking in the beauty of the area.
Marcus looked all around him
and slowly dismounted. He led Solomon over to a tree and tied the reins to a branch. Vin followed suit.
"It's...it's glorious, Vin! I can see what Josiah means by calling it Shepherd's Rock."
Vin grinned with knowing.
"It is a wonder, that's fer certain."
Marcus took a few steps toward
the clearing and gazed at the trees that surrounded it. There was the knee high green grass that waved in the breeze
like ocean waves. He saw the flowers that filled the air with scents. He closed his eyes and breathed it all in.
"Ahhh, it has been a long time since I have been able to just partake of God's handiwork."
Vin clapped him on the arm.
"Come on, the rock is a nice place to sit and just...look."
He started down into the clearing
and Marcus followed him. "Do you come out here often, Vin?"
"Often as I can, Marcus.
I have other places to go to, but this is one of my favorites."
"I can see why. Do the
others come out here?"
"I ain't sure. I think
Chris knows it's here, maybe he comes out here from time to time. He don't say. I think the others feel it's Josiah's
special place and leave it alone, lettin' him stake claim to it. Josiah shared it with me, 'cause...well, I guess 'cause
we 'preciate it in a diff'rent way."
"Do you all have special places
of refuge to retreat to?"
Vin laughed a bit at that.
"Chris has his shack, Buck has a woman's bedroom, and Ezra has his poker table. JD, well, he just goes where the mood
strikes. Nathan? Well, Nathan has a special place amongst the Seminole Village not
too far from here. He has himself a gal and all. I think that's where he goes."
"Sounds to me like you all
are capable of keeping your balance."
Vin started climbing the boulder
and Marcus followed up after him. The two sat down on the edge and let their legs dangle. The boulder was big
enough for them both to lay flat on their backs and look at the sky. Silence filled the air for a few moments.
Marcus basked in the peace of the area. Finally Vin asked, "What do you do, Marcus? To find your balance I mean?"
"Well, Vin, it's been a long
time. I suppose because we travel so much and so often it's hard for me to find just a special spot to call my own.
I guess that's why I have so many books. Books are what take me away and center me."
"Books," Vin said, reflectively.
"One day I'm gonna be able to read books from cover to cover and know what every single word means."
The two fell into a peaceful
quiet. They looked around them and then Vin pointed to the sky. "Sometimes the birds fly over and circle above
this spot. I like to watch 'em fly, see what tricks they do."
The two laid back and clasped
their hands over their stomach. "Will you ever write about this place, Vin?" Marcus asked with all sincerity.
"Write? About this place?"
Vin was taken aback by the question. "I reckon I never gave it much thought."
"Perhaps you should, my young
poet. To share your experiences with others...that would be a great and wonderful legacy to leave when you depart this
Vin took a moment to ponder
the suggestion. Then he said; "Well, if'n I do decide to write about Four
Corners, I'd most likely write about the Seven of us, and then I would write
a whole chapter or even a book about you."
"Why me, Vin?"
Vin cast him a surprised look.
"'Cause of what ya' done fer me since I met ya'."
Marcus sat up. "And
what have I done for you?"
Vin sat up and looked at him
with all sincerity. "I ain't never known words in the manner of which ya' show them to me. Chris knew this would
happen. That's why he encouraged me to seek ya' out. He told me ya' could take me places in my mind I ain't never
been before. And ya' have, Marcus. I'm in your debt."
Marcus closed his eyes.
Vin noticed how quickly his friend had gotten quiet. He studied Marcus and saw that he was fighting to hold the tears
"Marcus? Ya' all right?
I didn't mean to stir up your emotions like a tornado."
Marcus raised a hand, cutting
Vin off. "I need to know something, Vin."
"What was it, really, that
caused your anger with Mister Hathaway this morning?"
"What do ya' mean?"
"The anger that was inside
you when you confronted him. I thought you were going to tear into him the way you did that man who whipped me this
Vin lowered his gaze.
"I just ain't got no respect for the man."
"'Cause he's been spreadin'
lies about ya', that's why."
Marcus looked at Vin with
a furrowed brow. "Lies? What sort of lies?"
Vin sighed heavily.
He took a moment to put his words together. There was really no easy way to say it. "He says...you're dangerous.
That you're insane and all o' us should just steer clear of ya'."
Marcus felt as if he had been
hit in the chest with a severe blow. He looked away from Vin, shock filling him. "I knew...I knew he was controlling,
but I never thought he would go so far as that."
"None of us believe him, Marcus."
Marcus shook his head and
slowly climbed down off the boulder. He walked away a few feet, his back to Vin.
Vin watched him sadly then
scooted over to the edge of the boulder and jumped down. "Marcus? Ya' all right?"
Marcus turned to him and there
was a sadness in his face that cut deep into the tracker's heart. "He hates ya' that bad, Marcus?"
Marcus slowly shook his head.
"Hate doesn't begin to cover what he feels towards me, Vin."
Vin walked up to Marcus and
locked eyes with him. "Tell me 'bout the
fire, Marcus. Tell me
what really happened."
Marcus nodded. "I need
to tell you, Vin. But it won't be easy to hear."
"I reckon it won't be.
But it's gotta be harder fer ya' to keep it inside like ya' been doin'."
Marcus chuckled, but it was
a laughter that was filled with remorse. "I've wanted to speak about it for a long time, ever since it happened, really.
But I never had a chance to. I was too ashamed to come out of hiding, to form outside friendships. Hathaway wanted
me locked away. Not in jail, not that type of lock up, but he wanted to punish me for what I did. I suppose I
let him control me for so long because I felt I deserved it. He used my scars as bars and built a cage around me.
A cage I feared stepping out of." He looked at Vin. "Until I met you."
Vin rested a hand on Marcus'
upper arm. "Then I reckon it's time ya' walk in your freedom, Marcus. Come on." He started off towards a
clump of trees and Marcus followed.
Vin led him to a nice spot
by a flowing stream and the tracker sat underneath a weeping willow. "Sit here beside me. Talk all ya' want."
Marcus took a seat beside
Vin and the two gazed out over the flowing water that passed by. "I told you that the fire was God's way of judging
me for my pride. I still believe that. I was such an arrogant bastard, Vin. The praise I received from the
people went to my head. I felt I could do no wrong.
"Hathaway's son, Robert, was
so young. All he had ever known was the stage. Like you, he had a desire for learning. Unlike you, he was
not acquainted with hardship. His soul was pliable, a mound of clay ready to be molded by a master sculptor. But
sculpting souls is God's job. I took that job upon myself where Robert was concerned. I didn't care about him,
though. I cared about what I could make of him. He worshipped me and I allowed that worship to feed my ego.
He followed in my footsteps like a shadow, and like a shadow he was impossible to get rid of. At times he tried my patience,
always under foot, never giving me any time to myself. I grew tired of having him around, so I began to treat him like
a dog, hoping that he'd leave me alone on his own accord. But the more badly I treated him, the more he hung around.
It was then that I realized he had no relationship with his father. That Hathaway had no time for him, except to treat
him as a director treats an actor. All business. The stage was and is Hathaway's life. Family means nothing
to him. He basically pushed Robert away and Robert found in me a source of refuge. I may have treated him badly,
but it was, to him, better than not being paid attention to at all."
Marcus' gaze focused on the
water as it flowed, and he lost himself in the memories of a youth that would never really know what being wanted was all
"How old was he?" Vin asked.
"Seventeen at the time of
Vin shut his eyes. JD
could be no more than a few years older than that. JD had family back east but none that seemed to care what happened
to him. In reality the six men he now shared his life with were his family, and Vin hoped that they made the youth feel
wanted and needed. He would be doubly aware in the future to make sure that was so.
Marcus took in a shaky breath
and continued his story. "When I realized what type of relationship he had with his father, something pricked at my
heart and I began to feel a sympathy for Robert. I took him under my wing and began to introduce him to my world.
He needed to gain a harder edge to survive. I knew that Hathaway would never teach him about the real world, so I did.
Granted my world was full of booze and gambling and women, so it was not a great education I was giving him, but it was something
outside of the stage. And Robert needed to know the real world. He seemed to crave it, to eat up every single
minute. He got into a few fist fights and I then began to teach him how to defend himself.
"We became...close, Vin.
Very close. I suddenly saw a youth I would give my life to save. I became so protective of him. Hathaway
could not stand the idea of us being friends. Dear God," Marcus shut his good eye as tears began to form. "He
even accused us of deviant behavior. Having relations of the sexual nature." Marcus took in a deep, shaky breath
and the tears fell down his cheeks. "I never...never even entertained the thoughts of such a thing.
Not with any man, let alone Robert. But that accusation ripped Robert's soul apart. I couldn't help myself.
I slugged Hathaway for saying such a thing and defended Robert and myself in a very violent way. I can be violent, Vin.
I can allow rage to fill me and I can strike out like a viper.
"Hathaway hated me even more
after that. He began to only tolerate me being around because he knew my performances brought the audiences in.
And because he knew if I left, Robert would go with me. He must always be in control. It's his nature. When
he saw he was losing control over Robert, he blamed me. One night his hatred of me consumed him."
Marcus stopped and lowered
his head. Vin put a hand to his shoulder. "The night of the fire," he said as if to confirm.
Marcus nodded. "Hathaway
wanted me gone...permanently. If I died, then Robert would be his once more. Of course he couldn't come right
out and shoot me, so he needed to make it look like an accident. So, after the closing of a run in Kansas City, while we were all busy getting drunk
with celebration, Hathaway decided it was time. He waited for just the right moment to strike, when all the other actors
left to go to their hotel rooms. I was instructed to see to it the hall was locked up for the night. Each of us
was assigned duties. Someone each night was to check the hall and strike the stage, to pack up and get ready to set
out the next morning. It was my turn and Robert decided to stay and help me. That was his mistake. The doors
were locked, unbeknownst to us, and Hathaway came out onstage holding a bottle of whiskey. Robert was not on stage at
that time. He was in the back packing up some props. Hathaway must have thought it was just the two of us in that
theater. He held two glasses in his hand and seemed to want to bury the hatchet between us. We talked for a few
minutes. He expressed his apologies and asked for my forgiveness. We drank a toast, the two of us. Then
Hathaway clubbed me with the bottle and I was covered in whiskey. He set a match on fire and threw it on me. I
was covered in flames.
"Robert heard the commotion
and came running onto the stage. He screamed and tried to help me, but I threw him off. I was in a panic and in
that panic I set the stage on fire. Robert tried to pull the stage curtain down to extinguish the flames, but his clothes
caught on fire. Hathaway saw his son covered in flames and realized his plan had all gone wrong. He panicked and
"By this time the entire stage
was engulfed. I tried to get to Robert, to help him in some way, but it was no use." Marcus was choking on his
words now and Vin tightened his hold on the man's shoulder. Taking in a shaky breath, Marcus continued. "He fell
off the stage and I can only hope that a merciful God intervened, killing him in the fall before the flames tortured him to
death. More flames surrounded me and, though I was in pain, I had no choice but to survive for Robert's sake.
He died trying to save me. I ran out of the theater following after Hathaway. He had no idea I would survive the
"I remember the flames eating
at my flesh and when I reached outside I rolled and rolled until the flames went out. By this time the townspeople were
gathered and trying to put out the fire. I lost consciousness after that. When I awoke I was in the town's clinic
covered with bandages and dosed so much with laudanum that I couldn't think.
"Hathaway was there and I vaguely remember what he said. He told me that the fire was my fault and that if I tried
to tell anyone the truth no one would believe me. He wanted me dead, but he only succeeded in stealing my livelihood.
I would suffer the rest of my life and that was good enough for him." Marcus bowed his head. "I believed him,
Vin. He had control over me. I said nothing to anyone about the real cause of the fire, because I knew no one
would believe me. Hathaway had his control back and that was all that mattered to him. He mourned over Robert,
yes, but in his mind, I'm the one responsible for the fire. In a way, he's right."
"How can ya' say that?" Vin
asked with disgust. "How can ya' be responsible when ya' tried to save his son?"
"Because I formed a friendship
with Robert. If I had not done that, if I had not grown to love Robert as my own brother, none of this would have happened
and Robert would still be alive." Marcus was shaking and the tears streamed down from his one good eye.
"That's second-guessin', Marcus.
Ya' had no idea Hathaway would lose his mind and try t' kill ya'."
Marcus lowered his head.
"Perhaps not, my young friend. But I should have seen it coming. Hathaway, however, did not develop his reputation
as a fine actor for nothing. He had me fooled that night. With Robert's death any thread of sanity he held onto
was cut at that moment. He truly believes I'm the one responsible for Robert's death, that I started the fire.
And it is only his word against mine."
"Not anymore, Marcus.
Ya' don't have to live under that cloud anymore. Ya' got friends here, now. We can make a home fer ya' here."
Marcus looked at Vin curiously.
"What are you saying, Vin?"
"Listen, I've been thinkin'
about it all day. You're good with yer hands, ain't ya'?"
Marcus nodded. "Yes."
"I know Josiah could sure
use some help with his church. And Harding has taken a likin' to ya'. Ya' could get a job with him, helpin' people
fix their places up. Ya' all ready won Dan and Harding over. I know ya' have a way with people. Stay here,
Marcus. Stay in Four Corners. Ya' can have a home here."
Marcus gazed at Vin with a
pondering look. "A home? Here?"
Vin nodded. "I know
it'll be hard to adjust, but you'll win everyone over. Sure there'll be a few bad eggs to deal with, but ya' won't be
alone. The seven of us will watch out fer ya'. Ya' can continue to teach me and anyone else that's got a notion
to learn words."
Marcus turned away and stood.
He walked off a few feet. "I...I never even considered leaving the troupe before."
Vin stood and walked over
to him. "Ya' can study on it some if ya'd like."
"I don't have to, Vin."
Marcus turned to him. "I accept."
Vin smiled and held out his
hand. Marcus shook it and smiled back.
"Thank you, Vin, but Hathaway
will not like it that I'm staying behind."
Vin's voice was low and determined.
"Ya' let us worry 'bout Hathaway. He ain't gonna bother ya' no more."
"I can't believe it," Marcus
shook his head, but his smile only grew
wider. "A new chance
at life. I never even considered the possibility."
"It's the least I can do,
Marcus. Ya' showed me so much these last two days. I owe ya'."
"Vin, you do not owe me anything,
my friend." Marcus took in a deep and shaky breath as he gazed out over the clearing. "It has been so long since
I've believed in God. Oh, I speak the Word, I quote it, yes, but to actually believe it in my heart..." he shook his
head. "And then I meet you, Vin Tanner, and suddenly...I know, again, that God does exist. I meet your friends
who have accepted me despite what I look like. I see your JD standing up for me with the fervor and conviction of a
zealot. I see Josiah look at me with respect. And I see Chris Larabee...who sees in me a teacher for the man he
calls 'brother'." He looked at Vin with those words. "And he does, Vin. Maybe not with words, but with his
actions. You are so like a brother to him. Doubt it not, my young poet. The friendship you both share
is valuable, more precious than all the gold in the world. And for you both to allow me to intrude on that friendship,
for Chris to step aside and let me into your world, because of what he knows I can do for you..." Marcus shook his head.
"The enormity of it all has overwhelmed me.
"You say I take you places
in your mind that you've never been before. Vin, may I say to you that you have taken my spirit to places I have not
been to in a very long time, not since the fire robbed me of my appearance. It is I that owes you and your friends a
debt of thanks."
Vin gazed at Marcus and was
surprised to see that the actor now stood straighter, almost taller, as if a burden had been lifted from his shoulders.
"I..." he choked back, clearing his throat. "I never knew that's what we were doin' fer ya', Marcus. If that's
so...then I'm glad fer ya'. Ya' deserve some happiness in this life."
Marcus placed a hand on Vin's
shoulder and squeezed it. "My friend, your friendship and respect and that of your friends...has instilled inside me
hope for my future."
A flock of birds called out
above them. Marcus looked up at the sky. "There are your birds, Vin."
The two men looked up and
allowed the sounds of nature to communicate to them. No more words needed to be said. Not for those few hours
When it was going on dusk,
the two men decided it was time to head back to town. "Like it as not I still have a job to do in preparing the actors
for the performance tonight," Marcus said. "I will then tell Hathaway my decision to stay here."
Vin nodded to him. "Then
we best head on back."
Marcus reached into his pocket
and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "Vin, this is the poem you wrote for Chris. The one you recited to me
before you showed me the scars on your back. I meant to give it to you when we were finished, but when Chris entered
the room you left so quickly, I decided to give it to you later."
"It wasn't fer Chris, Marcus,"
Marcus looked at him questioningly.
"I, uh, I wrote it fer you,"
Vin almost whispered as if embarrassed.
Marcus gazed at the paper.
He opened it and read the words again, then looked up at Vin. "I thought for certain it was for Chris."
"Oh, don't ya' worry.
I got one workin' in my brain fer him. I just ain't figured out what I mean to say in it. That one's fer you,
though. I didn't say anythin' about it then, 'cause I wasn't sure how ya'd take it."
Marcus gazed at the paper
with a new sense of wonder. "I'm...I'm honored, Vin. Thank you."
"Would...would you like to
read the one Chris wrote fer me? When he encouraged me to keep learnin' how to read?"
"Indeed I would. Do
you have it on you?"
Vin reached inside his coat
to the pocket where he kept his wallet. "I keep it close. Mary did me the favor of printin' it up all nice and
pretty like so's I can keep it longer. This one's in Chris' own hand. Now that I have the printed copy I'll be puttin'
this one in a glass frame so's the handwritin' will last." He unfolded the paper and gently handed it to Marcus who
silently read the words. He looked up at Vin when he was finished. The joy in his eyes told Vin what he wanted
to hear. "Ya' like it, then?"
"It...it is a wonderful piece
of expression, Vin. You can tell Chris poured his heart out into it."
"Yeah. I reckon that's
why it means so much to me. And why I want to write one fer him, but I want the feelin' to be right. Fer my heart
to write it I guess. Does that sound too, I don't know," he shrugged, "girlie?"
"A poet writes from the heart,
Vin. Otherwise the words he puts on paper are stale and lifeless. That poem is indeed inside you. You'll
create a masterpiece and touch Chris' heart with it. And the glass frame for this one is a good idea."
"I'm glad you got to see it
like that, though." He gestured to the paper.
Marcus handed the paper back
to him. "Me, too. Let's head back, shall we?"
Vin carefully folded the paper
and placed it back into his wallet. He put the wallet back into his jacket and the two mounted their horses. "It's
going to be a wonderful night, Vin, Hathaway notwithstanding."
Vin chuckled. "If'n
ya' like, Marcus, I can be back there with ya'. Help out as much as I can."
"The moral support would be
greatly appreciated, Vin. Thank you."
By the time they made it back
to town, the sun had all ready set and the bonfires that served to light the street were blazing. The two men entered
the livery from the front. The darkness would keep them in hiding.
People were surrounding the
meeting hall. Vin dismounted Peso and looked over to where the people were gathered. "Looks like another full
Marcus dismounted and gazed
over at the hall. "I should be over there."
"Go on. I'll take care
of Solomon fer ya'."
"Thank you, Vin." Marcus
handed the reins to Vin and started over to the hall.
Chris was standing outside
the jailhouse when he saw Vin and Marcus ride in. He walked over to the actor. "Marcus, there's someone I'd like
you to meet. Can you take a few minutes and come inside?"
"Well, I do need to get to
the hall, Mister Larabee. I have a job to do."
"This won't take but a few
Vin saw the two talking from
the livery doors. He tied both horses up and headed over to them. "Chris? Somethin' up?"
"Yeah, Mary has requested
meeting Marcus. I think it would be wise, considering something that happened after the two of you left this
Vin looked over to see Mary
approaching them. "You two go on in, then," Vin said as he walked out to meet Mary.
Chris gestured to inside the
jailhouse and Marcus followed him in.
Mary walked over to Vin and
nodded to him in greeting. "Vin," she said.
"Mary, I hear ya' want to
"That's right. I feel
I need to, I'm rather confused at the moment. James is a good friend of mine, but I don't know what to believe anymore."
Vin reached out and took her
arm. "His scars are pretty frightful, if'n ya' aren't prepared for 'em."
She looked at Vin in the glow
of the street fires and saw the look of concern in his eyes. "I understand, Vin. I can handle it."
"All right, then. Come
He fell into step beside her
and they headed for the jailhouse.
Outside, in the shadow of
the alley darkness, Hathaway watched this scene with anger. He clutched the pistol tightly in his hand.
When Mary and Vin entered,
Chris turned from where he and Marcus were standing in front of the desk. "Mary? This is Theodore Marcus.
Marcus? This is Mary Travis, a good friend to James Hathaway."
Marcus slowly turned--his
hat and scarf still covering his face and head. "Mrs. Travis. It is a pleasure to meet you." He held out
his left hand so that she could see the scars.
She looked down at his hand
and swallowed back a gasp. Slowly she reached out and took the hand in her own. "Mister Marcus, thank you for
agreeing to meet with me."
"I must say I am at a loss
as to the urgency of this meeting, though," Marcus said.
"Something Hathaway said,"
"Yes. Vin told me what
he's been telling you all."
Vin nodded. "I told
'im this afternoon, Chris. Marcus knows that Hathaway thinks he's insane."
"All right," Chris nodded.
"Marcus, would you be willing to tell us your side of the story regarding the fire in Kansas City?"
Marcus looked to Mary and
saw the need to know imbedded in her eyes. He gestured for Mary to take a seat in the chair in front of the desk.
"I feel I should tell you what happened, but if you are a friend of Mister Hathaway's, you will find this news hard to bear."
"I'm finding all of this confusing,
Mister Marcus. James tells me one thing, but Mister Larabee and the others insist he's lying. I need to hear it
Marcus nodded. "Very
well. I've all ready told Vin this afternoon."
"Go on, Marcus. It ain't
gonna hurt me to hear it twice," the tracker urged.
Marcus sighed heavily.
"The question will still remain...which one of us is to be believed, Mrs. Travis. I understand that nothing will change
that. It will be his word against mine. There are no other witnesses to the event, and I may easily have damaged
my credibility by not voicing my story long before this."
"I understand. Please,
Marcus began his story and
By the time he was done, Mary
could not stop the tears from escaping her eyes. "I simply cannot believe that James is capable of murder. It's
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Travis.
I am doing what these fine men are accusing Mister Hathaway of doing to me. Tainting his reputation. My only reason
for coming forward like this, aside from your desiring to know, is because Vin and Chris believe in me. And I do not
want to do anything to threaten that precious gift they've given so freely. I have not spoken of the events of that
night since it happened, not until today, with Vin. What you have heard, both from Mister Hathaway, and now from myself
is for you to deal with the best way you see fit. I understand your desire to be loyal to a friend and you do not know
me. It is a predicament I would not wish on anyone. Whom to trust, whom not to trust. I understand your
fear for Vin's safety, but to be truthful, if I had wanted to harm him I had many opportunities to do so these last few days.
Vin is a poet after my own heart. I could not do anymore to him than I could do to Robert when he was alive and meant
the world to me. That is the only defense I can give to come against the slanderous lies Hathaway has spread."
Mary gazed at Marcus for a
long moment. "Mister Marcus, would you show yourself to me?"
Marcus lowered his head.
"I do not wish to frighten you."
"Please. I need to see
for myself the damage that was done to you."
Marcus slowly reached up and
removed his hat, then he removed the
scarf and turned to Mary,
his good eye closed.
Mary did not flinch away from
the sight. She stood and stepped closer to him. He opened his eye and saw the acceptance in hers. She laid
a hand on his upper arm. "I am sorry this happened to you."
Outside, unseen by the occupants
of the jailhouse, Hathaway saw through the corner of the window what Mary was doing. She was accepting Marcus without
hesitation. 'How dare he!' he thought. 'How dare he take Mary's friendship from me as well!' Gripping the
pistol, he moved out into the street, facing the jailhouse. When Marcus stepped out, he would never steal from James
Marcus reached out and took
Mary's hand in his own. "My dear lady, if I've caused any unrest between you and the seven men..."
"No, please. What ever
has happened I've allowed it to happen. That's not your fault." She looked at Chris. "It's mine. And
I need to talk to James one more time. Confront him myself with what I've now been told."
"He will not listen to you,
I'm afraid. His mind is set on his interpretation of what went down that night."
"I have to try, Mister Marcus.
For my own sake."
Marcus nodded with understanding.
"I thank you for taking the time to listen to me. For meeting with me, Mrs. Travis."
"Thank you, Mister Marcus,
for giving me your time."
Chris looked out the window.
"What the hell is he doing out there?"
They all looked to see Hathaway
standing out in the street, obviously waiting for them to come out.
"Please, let me talk to him,"
Marcus said. He headed for the door, but
Vin intercepted him.
"Marcus, please. Let me go first."
Marcus smiled at him.
"Vin, don't worry yourself." He reached up and put a hand to Vin's face and neck. "Trust me."
"I do. It's Hathaway
I don't trust."
Marcus gently moved Vin aside.
"Let me talk to him. I know what I'm doing." He reached for the door handle, when Vin put a hand to his arm.
"Marcus," he said, his eyes pleading.
Marcus smiled at him again.
"Trust me," he said again and opened the door. "Mister Hathaway? Is something wrong, sir?"
"Teddy, I was wondering where
you were. The show is due to start in another hour. We need you over at the meeting hall."
"I was just on my way there
now, sir." Marcus stepped off the porch into the street.
"You forgot your hat and scarf,
Teddy. We wouldn't want the people of the town to see you, now, would we?"
Marcus turned to see Vin standing
in the doorway, with Mary behind him. Chris was at the window, observing like a cat.
"I...don't need the scarf
and hat anymore, Mister Hathaway. People here it seems, accept me for who I am, not what I look like."
Hathaway smiled. "And
that is so noble of them, isn't it, Teddy?"
"Mister Hathaway, is there
a problem? You seem rather distressed about something."
Hathaway shook his head and
chuckled. "Just you, Teddy." He pulled out his gun and fired.
Vin flinched back as the gun
went off. His legs felt like rubber as he flew forward. "MAAARRRRCCCUUUUUUSS!" he shouted, reaching out as he
saw Marcus' body jerk back. Vin's arms wrapped around Marcus' waist as the actor fell. When the two hit the ground,
Marcus' body from further
Chris felt his heart drop
into his stomach at the sight. 'Dear God,' he thought as he pulled his gun and pushed Mary aside.
Hathaway aimed his gun at
Vin. "Now you will never interfere again."
Chris yelled out as he aimed
his gun. "NNNOOOOOO!"
A moment in time, when the
world seemed to slow to a snails pace, forced thoughts to whirl within Chris' mind. A reasoning he had never focused
on before pointed him in a direction other than the one he would have normally took. He aimed for Hathaway's hand and
fired. The gun flew and Hathaway went down with a scream.
Chris ran to him and kicked
his gun out of reach, keeping his gun on Hathaway.
Mary ran out and stopped--her
hands to her mouth. What was she seeing? What had she witnessed? A man she thought she had known, a man
she trusted...had turned into a cold-blooded killer right before her eyes. The man she thought was a killer...decided
not to take a life. And a man who Mary had thought she would never see weep, was cradling a bleeding man in his arms
with tears streaming unabashedly down his face.
"My God," was all she could
say as she took in all these images at once.
turned to see Vin pushing Marcus up from behind and cradling the wounded man in his arms. "Marcus?" Vin's voiced sounded
like a child who was lost and afraid. Chris' blood ran cold as he saw the blood that covered the actor's chest.
"Marcus! Marcus!" Vin was shouting as he held the man in his arms pulling him tight against his chest.
Chris turned toward the clinic
where he saw a light on in the window. "NATHAN!" he called out. "NATHAN! WE NEED YOU!"
The gunshots brought a crowd
of people from the meeting hall, including Buck, Josiah and JD. Ezra came running behind them.
Nathan came hurrying out of
the clinic carrying his medical bag. He ran toward the direction of Chris' shout.
Vin felt the blood seeping
from the wound. He looked up at the crowd gathering around them. Many of them saw Marcus' face and cringed away
with disgust and fear. Vin did not notice their reaction. He lifted horror filled eyes. "Get Nathan!
Someone, please get Nathan!" he shouted. Lost in shock, Vin had not registered Chris' desperate cries for the healer.
Buck and JD broke through
along with Josiah and Ezra. JD looked down and froze for a second when he saw that it was Marcus who had been shot.
Buck ran to the bonfire and grabbed a burning log, bringing it back he held it up to give better light.
Nathan came running through.
He saw the image of Vin holding Marcus' bleeding body against him and Vin looked up at him, his eyes pleading and terrified.
"Help him, Nathan, he's bleedin' bad."
Nathan knelt beside Marcus
and began to examine the wound.
Hathaway was on his knees
holding his wrist as the blood dripped from the wound Chris had inflicted him with. He began to chuckle as Chris walked
up to him and placed the gun to his neck. "He won't hurt anyone anymore, Mister Larabee. I've done what you could
not bring yourself to do."
Chris could tell that Hathaway's
mind was completely gone.
Josiah turned and stormed
up to Hathaway, large and imposing. "Marcus would never hurt anyone," he said in a tone of voice that forced the man
to only chuckle more.
"Take him, Josiah," Chris
spoke out and his voice was low and full of strain.
Josiah took a hold of Hathaway
who continued to laugh.
Chris holstered his gun and knelt on the other
side of Marcus. He rested a hand on his arm. "Marcus?"
"Forgive me, Chris.
I was always...famous...for my grand...death scenes," Marcus tried to laugh.
Vin was unconsciously rocking
Marcus as he looked up at Nathan. The healer locked eyes with Vin and slowly shook his head. "An artery's been
hit, Vin. He's loosing too much blood too fast. I can't save him."
Vin gazed at him with fearful
eyes. He reached up and grabbed Nathan by the shirt collar. The blood on his hand stained the healer's shirt.
"Don't say that to me, Nathan! Don't say that to me!"
Chris rested a hand on Vin's
shoulder. "Vin," he softly said.
"No! I won't accept
that! I won't!" Vin's eyes were wide with shock and pleading as he looked from Chris to Nathan and back again.
"Vin, my...young poet."
Marcus reached up and touched Vin's face with his fingers. "Do not...worry. These last few days have been the
most glorious of my life. I have you to thank for that."
"No! Marcus! Don't
ya' quit on me! Not now! Not now!"
Chris looked up at Buck with
desperation. Buck returned his gaze with a clenched jaw. He shook his head in sorrow.
Marcus rested his fingers
to Vin's cheek and gazed up at him from where he lay. "Vin, listen to me. There's not much time...and...I have
one last request to ask of you."
Vin's hands were covered in
Marcus' blood by now. He clung to his friend tightly. The tears fell from his eyes, but he paid them no mind.
"Chris, if you would...the
book in my jacket pocket. I would like Vin...to read sonnet Twenty-nine for me."
Chris hurried to retrieve
the book and opened it to the page. Buck stood behind Vin to hold the burning log in order to give Vin light to read
JD went to stand by Nathan,
tears filling his own eyes. He looked over at Buck who reached out and rested a comforting hand on his young friend's
shoulder. JD stepped closer and allowed Buck to pull him to his side.
Ezra stood on Nathan's other
side, and gazed down with him to Vin who was shaking mightily under the strain of repressed grief.
Josiah kept a firm hold on
Hathaway, discouraging any attempts for the man to escape. "You will listen, and you will listen well," the preacher
spoke with contempt. Hathaway only laughed. Josiah wanted to ram a fist into the man's face, but held back his
temper. Vin's time with Marcus was going to be short. There would not be any distractions, not if the preacher
could help it.
"I'll hold the book for you,
Vin. Read to him," Chris urged gently.
Vin blinked away the tears,
wiping his eyes with his buckskin covered arm. He focused on the words and suddenly was able to read them, to put meaning
to the words. He cradled Marcus closely to him, the man's blood seeping over his hands and arm, and he began to read.
"When in disgrace with Fortune
and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state." Vin looked down at Marcus, clutching him tightly. "Marcus..."
"Go on, my young poet.
Read for me." Marcus smiled up at him with reassurance.
Vin choked back the tears
as he continued. "And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, and look upon myself and curse my fate." Vin's
voice began to shake. He could not look at Chris, even though his friend held the book for him. He kept his eyes
on the page as the tears streamed down, flowing like a river of pain. He forced himself to finish. "Wishing me
like to one more rich in hope, featured like him, like him with friend's possessed." At this Vin lifted his eyes only
to see Chris do the same. The meaning was clear to them both. Vin tightened his hold on Marcus as he went
on. "Desiring this man's art...or that man's scope, with what I most enjoy contented least. Yet in these thoughts,
myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee," Vin felt Marcus' hand lay on his neck and there was a gentle squeeze with
"And then my state, like to
the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth sings hymns at heaven's gate." Marcus' hand started to slide from
Vin's neck. Vin reached up quickly and grabbed it in his own, holding it there. "For thy sweet love remembered,
such wealth brings." Vin felt Marcus' chest fall and the last breath the actor released brushed over his student's face.
Vin lowered his head to Marcus'. Knowing the actor could not hear him anymore; he still spoke the last words.
"That then I scorn..." Vin's voice completely broke. "To change my state with kings."
Vin broke down in tears as he
held Marcus' lifeless body close to him. All the rest stood silent. No sounds but the breeze whispering in the
air and the silent weeping of a student as tears fell onto the scarred but beautiful face of a teacher who had filled a young
go to the Conclusion)