Chapter 1:

Dutch van der Linde: Hero

In West Elizabeth the winter months are nothing if not harsh, in point of fact there is no greater understatement. On a calendar, they are the mark of death. The cold being responsible for more deaths per year in the region than outlaws - most years. But this is not most years, and these are not your average outlaws.

The wind whips like flying flags against their stinging ears, the three riders approach Evergreen Farm on horseback. A rider in a black business suit leads them, absent a hat, with a scarf tucked deeply into his vest, hiding a tie that is almost surely underneath. At once he sees plainly before him, five men on horseback, two more than those that make up his party, he nearly stops altogether when he sees the man upfront has his rifle raised in the air, as if the weapon itself is the flag of his nation. He presses forward cautiously as the five man band rides toward them.

"Who are you?" The business man asks as they meet him.

"Dutch van der Linde" comes his reply.

"Mr. van der Linde. This here's private property. Owned by Southwestern Railroad. You are trespassing. If you ought not be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, I suggest you leave, so our men and I can go about our business."

Dutch looks embittered at the youthful business tycoon, as if bile has come through his throat tract. "Well now, I've lived here maaaany years, and from what I can gather this farm here," his hand wafts in demonstration, "belongs to a Mr. Purvis."

"Mr. Purvis signed a legally binding contract a month ago which gives Southwestern unquestionable rights over his - former - farmland. He may have since changed his mind, but as I'm sure you're aware, it is not within his legal rights to do s-"

"Mr. Purvis told me that he was coerced into signing that contract, and I'll be goddamned if he knows what was in it, because..." his head bobs rhythmically to each following word; "Mr. Purvis can't read word one."

The business man leans forward in his saddle hesitantly, "That's ludicrous, the man couldn't sign his name if he couldn't read and write."

"That ain't true. Because I've known him long enough to know that he could, and it's not because he can write, because it's the only thing he ever learned to jot down - but that don't mean he wanted to, when he did."

The man sighs. "Whether it be his name, or an 'X', if it's his mark, it's our land."

"See, that's where you're wrong." Dutch pulls a pistol from his holster.

"If there's an issue here, you take it up with the law."

"Keep fightin' me on it. And we might have to settle this matter, here."

"Mr. van der Linde you don't seriously expect me to believ-" a bullet cracks open the lower part of the man's jaw, a stream of blood flows down his neck, across the fine cloth product of his expenses. He slumps off his horse, into the snow, the stream of red violating white, it's warmness melting much of it - steam rising out, into the air above his ruptured face.

The two other men yank their horses back, they watch as the wounded man crawls desperately forward. Dutch puts another bullet in the top of his head as a passing crow objects to the noise.

Then silence.

Dutch looks at the remaining business men. "Now there's only three of you - well two now - I got no idea what you come up here for, but this farm belongs to Purvis, if you bring Chinamen up here to start building, unless they get wise; they'll be dead Chinamen. I'll blow every foot of track you lay, until graverobbery would appear a more lucrative enterprise by comparison. You bring so much as a Pinkerton man up here; well, don't think that'll stop us none neither." He points his gun. "Do you know what I'm capable of now?"

"Yes sir." a man chimes in, "I wasn't involved in uh... any hoodwinkin', sir. I'm just a working man, sir. - Honest - Honest to God. I only met these boy today."

"Shut up..." his associate, and older companion, tells him quietly, as their fingers tighten over their reins, pulling their horses away slowly.

"Get on outta' here!" van der Linde screams, "GO ON! GET!"

The two men ride off, too petrified to look back.

Mr. Purvis, a thin man, a few years older than Dutch, pushes open his door and scrambles down the porch steps, "DUTCH!"

Dutch and his men turn to see him.

"Dutch." The man is out of breath upon reaching their horses, he undoubtedly began that way, "You didn't have to do that. You didn't have to kill that man."

"Yeah, I did. You ain't gonna' scare these boys away with rifles and hard looks. Business men see money and they're blinded by it's glow. You gotta' put the light out."

"Yeah, but Dutch... when I asked for your help I wasn't expectin' this!"

"Well what were you expectin'?" Dutch looks at his boys, who all smirk, or cackle. Then the air becomes awkward. "Well... it ain't none of my business if a bunch of suit wearin' city boys come up here and take your home away; if you're tellin' me you don't want me to have nothin' to do with it. That's your right." he looks over at the corpse "But I just killed a man because you asked for my help. Now the law ain't likely to forgive that on either accounts; yours or mine. If you say I acted of my own accord they're going to find that rather curious..." he tilts his head as if to say; 'You know what I'm saying'

"But that's the point, Dutch, I - I got enough trouble," his breath holds on the last word. "You know. I gotta family, I got mouths to feed. - How'm I s'posed to convince them that this weren't me? That this had nothin' to do with me, hell - you know I ain't got money to pay you. How do they know that?"

Dutch looks out over the horizon, then back at Purvis. "You really regret bringin' me out here, do ya'?"

The man holds both hands to his chest, then spreads them outwards, "I -" he lets out a terse breath "I regret what's happened Dutch. I can't." he takes his hat off holding it to his belly, "I didn't think I'd be havin' the guilt of murder on my conscience. That probably sounds dumb, huh?"

"No, Purvis, that ain't dumb. You're an illiterate farmer. You scare easy at the sight of a gun, thought maybe railroad men worked just the same. But they don't." Dutch sighs, "I still gotta ask you somethin' Purvis..."

"Yeah Dutch? What is it?" Purvis scratches his head.

"You know they'll take this farm, right?"

"Yes sir," Purvis says wiping leakage from his nostrils, "I done prepared for it," puts his hat back on, "since you shot that boy... Mena - menta-... in - uh - in my head, I mean." He tilts up his hat to see Dutch better.

"You're 'bout to die out here, without any money; in the dead of winter."

"Don't I know it." Purvis replies in defeat.

"Jack!"

A man in a tweed vest, bowtie, and long overcoat rides up alongside Dutch; as one of his men. Jack, 35 or 40 years old, looks a lot like a professor, if a professor were left out in the harsh ends of each season, with a penchant for hard nights, and hard drinks. His face; scholarly, but sharp at it's curves, and rough. If street smart had a face, it would be the face of Jack Pleasance. A veritable paradox of a man. "Yeah, Boss."

"Give Purvis some folding money." Jack reaches into his pocket. "John?"

The calloused, but otherwise comparatively immaculate face of John Marston looks to his leader, and father figure; "Yeah, Dutch."

"Burn Mr. Purvis' house to the ground."

"Whatever you say." John answers, then rides off.

Purvis looks horrified.

"It ain't your house no more." Dutch explains. "John'll make clear what he's here on. You and your family take what's important, and you leave the rest; buy you some replacements for it later. The law comes askin' what happened here, you tell'm Dutch van Der Linde shot some railroad boy so he could rob your house hisself."

"What about them other two?"

"They won't say nothin'."

"Dutch, I - I can't thank you enough! I ain't got no way to repay you."

"Hush up now, I didn't ask you for nothin' the first time, and I sure ain't expectin' nothin' now. What with you bein'... homeless and all." he talks as if it pains him just to think of it, "I'm here to help you, I don't want no favors, it upends the point."

"Still, I feel awful, crummy." Purvis says with his head low. Jack hands him a large wad of cash.

"You could give us your wife for a day..." Dutch suggests plainly. 'Yeehaw' comes behind Dutch, from Bill Williamson; at the suggestion. Dutch looks back at him with a smirk. There's an awkward silence as Purvis keeps his head low. "It was a joke." Dutch admits.

Purvis lets out a nervous laugh, "Hell, I knew that." He slaps the cash against his palm.

Dutch wrinkles his nose, taking in a quick sniff, "Anything else I can do for you?"

"No, I think that's about it, Dutch. - Thank you." Purvis holds the money he's been given, as he had his hat, with a feeble, cowardly posture, as Dutch called to his men to ride on. "Wait, Dutch. Hold on a minute!" Purvis calls to him, and Dutch stops to let him speak, "I'll prob'ly go down to Nevada or somethin'... I got family up there, I... still got family down here too. You... look after them for me, will ya'?"

"Sure thing, Purvis."

"What a bunch of SHIT!" Williamson decrees on the road. "What was the point in all that! He asks for help, so Dutch busts open some railroad bastard's neck, then we burn his house down, the one we came to protect, the one Dutch shot the guy for in the first place. - Give him half our money? What did we get outta' all this!"

Dutch pulls his horse as close to still as possible. "William, what did you get out of it?"

"Nothin'!" Bill answers, confrontationally, knowing that's not what Dutch wants to hear.

"We gave a man, and his children, peace of mind."

"It's freezing cold, we could die out here tonight. We got no food - we ain't got hardly no money! We could die, but he has peace of mind!" Williamson cackles at the thought. "And eeeeeeexxxcccuuuse me, if I don't see how burning down his house is a good way to help him keep it!"

"He wanted our help, and we gave it to him, conditional to the situation as he saw it. It isn't our business to decide what's best for him."

"What about us! What is our business! - Dutch! That's what I keep askin' you? Maybe I'm an idiot, but we didn't bring that money for him, right? Am I wrong? It's gone and we could die!"

"'We could die'... That's an interesting thought, William. 'We could die.'..." He repeats. "We can die, understand? See the leaves on those trees over there?"

"What're you talkin' about Dutch?" asks the bandito Esquella, "It's winter, there are no leaves." his voice is leading, like maybe he knows already where Dutch is going with this.

"That's right, and you know why; cause they're dead. Everything dies, William. On down to eternity. You have to determine what value you will place on the time you have here; on the beings that inhabit this place with you. There's a tree up a ways near Manzanita Post, two thousand years old, alive before Christ - think about that. They cut it down last week, to make banks, and railroad tracks, saloons, and brothels. A man like Purvis, he's just trying to feed his family. Live his life. What's important to him is livelihood, his children. He takes what he needs and wastes nothing, and nothing is taken for granted. But those railroad barons, and oil men, gold miners; they rupture, and destroy things, just like; and such as - Mr. Purvis. Maybe they don't realize it, but they're here - their purpose, is to stamp out every last semblance of meaning left on this rock, to end the fire that once burned in men; the desire not just to live, but to really be alive! Mr. Purvis has to fight through winters like this, he has to worry about cholera, smallpox, fever... There's enough in the hands of God to test Mr. Purvis' desire to be alive, without the intrusion of 'railroads'. Human's competing with nature to create problems for each other."

Bill stares at him blankly.

"And you ask what about us? What about us?" Dutch appears almost desperate "You've been with me all this time, and you still don't understand yet?"

"I'm trying to." Bill says with shame and worry.

"Who's side are you on? Do you want to go out there, in the name of 'progress', and destroy that which is only trying to live. Or do you want to help keep it going, by ending their 'machine': An endless mechanism of grinding gears. Moving, with no life, like the hands on a watch. We're not here to think about us, Williamson. We're putting ourselves at risk, because society on both sides has placed us on the outside... of all of that. To many there may be no such thing as a righteous gunslinger. But when you can hire men like us, to rob money from the poor - who in the poor can pay money to men like us to rob it back? Trying themselves'll just get them killed. So they come to us, and we ask nothing in return, because we take it back for them, if we took it away, what would really be theirs? Knowing that we tipped the balance in favor of those who deserve it, is enough for me. There's always bankers to rob, corrupt politicians to take advantage of. We want for nothing, we take what we want, the least we can do is extend a courtesy to those lacking the sand or resources to take it on themselves. Perhaps we could all have been soldiers or Pinkerton boys." the gang chuckles "But whether we operate with impunity or impurity in the eye of observers, the type of men we are means people are bound to die. It's what you choose to kill, and what you choose to die for that truly makes you the kind of man you are."