Happy Valentines Day, Mr. Standish

He lay allowing the awakening of pain to wash over him. With his eyes still closed and holding himself perfectly still the conman began orienting himself to his surroundings. When he was quite certain he was in his own room at the boarding house he cracked his eyelids slightly open and took in the lightening of the day. When he ascertained that he was, indeed, alone he slowly unwound and stretched his limbs and arching his back so that his torso raised from the feather mattress. A slight smile lighted his face and emerald green eyes sparkled. What a wonderful day. He slept uninterrupted. No night terrors. No Mr. Larabee demanding his presence at an ungodly hour. The wound in his side healing nicely and today his plan was going into action. Even the realization that his Mother was expected to arrive couldn't put a damper on feeling of contentedness that was settling over him. He sat up swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He picked up his watch and casually checked the time. Good lord! Not even 8:00 A.M. He'd have to make certain to complain about the earliness of the hour if he encountered Misters Larabee or Jackson. Can't allow them to think he could willing arise at such an ungodly time of the day.

Well since he was already up he decided he might just as well see to his ablutions and join whatever of his fri.. urr associates were breaking their fast.

When he tripped lightly down the stairs, he was surprised to see most of his fellow boarders in the dining room, including Misters Tanner, Dunne and just great, Mr. Larabee. "Am I to assume that since we are all in attendance that today is hotcakes and sausages?"

" Whatsya doing up so early for Ez?"

" Rather difficult to remain in blissful slumber with all the clamor made by you ruffians, Mr. Dunne."

"Yeah. Right Ezra. Just sit down and shut-up."

"How could I possibly refuse such an elegant invitation, Mr. Larabee?"

After breakfast, Ezra was sitting enjoying his coffee and cigar. He always enjoyed this part of a day, when he had the dining room to himself. Ezra caught his landlady, Mrs. Mercer peering out the window. When he glanced that way he espied Dalton Palmer leaning against the hitch post. Abigail blushed when she turned back to her work and saw that she had been observed dawdling at the window. She watched as that lovely Mr. Standish rose elegantly from his seat. He walked toward her, snatching her bonnet from its hook as he exclaimed, "My dear lady. I insist you leave this for now and go attend to Mr. Palmer."

She was going to protest but knew that he would insist. Hardly a week went by where the dear man didn't help her at least once. She knew when she returned her kitchen would be spotless and the dishes neatly stacked on the table. She knew it hadn't been that long since he had been wounded in the attempt on the bank, but he was certainly looking fit this morning. She blushed again as this thought occurred to her. "If you're certain Mr. Standish, then I truly thank you."

"I am indeed most certain. Now off with you."

About an hour later Ezra was coming out of the telegraph office, where he stopped to make sure that Maude hadn't wired a change in plans. Finding no such missive he passed the restaurant observing Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Jackson inside just gave a salute and continued on to the jail. He stopped briefly to chat with Mr. Wilmington who was on duty and just tucking into the breakfast that JD had dropped off. He than continued on to his destination of the mercantile. He stopped and admired the prettily displayed cards, candies and trinkets. The little sign tucked amongst the colorful items declared that they were just arrived from New York City for Valentines Day. When he entered the store he tipped his hat at the ladies gathered with Mrs. Potter. Just as he had hoped, they were discussing the display and even better, making plans for a Valentine's Social. After purchasing a few cigars and passing sometime with Mrs. Potter, he continued his circuit of the town. He strolled down to Bucklin's General Store where he picked up the newest dime novel on display for JD. Then back down the street to Watson's Hardware where he purchased some shells for his rifle. Next stop was the Ritz on where he saw Master Billy hard at work with the bucket and little shovel. Very happy that all was working smoothly he walked back down the street where he relieved Buck at the jail. Inside Ezra sat thinking back to that day shortly before Christmas when he saw little Billy working on a box he was carving for his mother. It bothered him because the carving really wasn't very good and he was afraid Billy's feelings might be hurt if Mrs. Travis wasn't suitably impressed. When he suggested to Billy that perhaps his mother might prefer something from the mercantile, Billy had just shrugged and said he didn't have any money and besides his Mom would like it well enough.

It all reminded Ezra of a time when he and Ephriam were 11 years old and staying with an elderly spinster aunt. Knowing nothing of little boys, she had spent the long winter teaching the boys to tat. Ephriam didn't take to making lace at all, but he himself (who was very eager to please back then) did passably well. In February Maude sent a letter saying she was coming for Ezra on the 14th. He remembered how excited he had been and wanted to make something for her. Ephriam wasn't interested in helping and said it was a stupid idea but that, unfortunately didn't stop him. He had cut a heart out of a scrap of red silk and stitched some lace he had made around the edges. He remember how proud he had been. He also remembered how Maude had ridiculed his effort and lamented that if he really cared for her he should have shown her so and bought her a gift. Back in their room Ephriam had laughed at him and said 'told you so'. Well, he rarely needed a lesson taught more then once and thus, had never attempted to make anything for his Mother or anyone, again.

Well, about a week after Christmas the judge sent Ezra and Nathan to Ridge City on an errand it was there he had seen then Valentines trinkets and purchased them. After delivering them to Mrs. Potter and convincing her to sell them on a provisional basis he still had to work out the problem of funds for the children to purchase the penny cards.

He certainly had plenty of time to figure that out. Later that day, when some miscreants had attempted to hold up the bank, he had slipped and fallen running across the street causing himself to catch a bullet in the side. He had felt rather clever when he had come up with the idea of paying the children a penny a bucket to clean the offal from the streets which was the cause of his mishap.

Unfortunately, even though the children were keeping the streets remarkably clean and earning their pennies, they weren't buying the cards. Valentine's morning Ezra sought out Maude to deliver her the most ornate card he had been able to find. He found her in the restaurant with Mrs. Travis and the Wells ladies. There on the table was the lace heart that he had made fifteen years ago. He turned to go back out and heard Maude say, "I've carried it with me ever since. Nothing can touch a mother more than a child's gift made with love." Ezra knew his mother was playing him, but she did still have the heart so that had to mean something . Just what he wasn't sure.

Just do this and go Ezra. "Here Mother, dear, Happy Valentine's Day"

Ezra turned and once more stepped outside and there were the children of the town with cards in their hands. "HAPPY VALENTINES DAY MR. STANDISH!"