Mrs. Standish AU: Chapter 3, Domesticity

Standard Fanifc Disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: These aren't my characters (other than Rina and her kinfolk and a few minor townsfolk). Other characters and situations based on the Magnificent Seven TV show, borrowed for um, uh, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. They will be returned to their original copyright holders relatively undamaged, or at least suitably bandaged. Be warned: this is the third story in an Alternate Universe series. It's AU, it's Mary Sue, and it's PWP. If you object to AUs, Mary Sues, or PWPs, you might be happier reading something else. Black Rook writes excellent M7 fanfic; so do StrangeVisitor, clair beaubien, and sammie28. And they have plots in their check out their work. Originally published in the fanzine Let's Ride #7, from Neon RainBow Press, in November 2004.

"Domesticity'

Chapter 3 of the Mrs. Standish AU

by Susan M. M.

"And you never seen, so they tell me, such downright domesticity"

"Sobbin' Women," from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

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"Hardly palatial, but it appears to be structurally sound," Ezra Standish observed

"Are you sure it isn't held together by the cobwebs?" his wife Marina asked, looking around the abandoned house with dismay.

"I admit it's a trifle dusty, but I have every confidence in your domestic abilities. I'm sure you'll be able to set the place to rights in no time." The dark-haired gambler looked around the filthy house. Calling it 'a trifle dusty' was pure litotes. "And it has the advantage that we can take possession immediately."

The thin woman replied, "You may be able to take possession from the bank immediately, but it will take at least two days' hard work - more likely three - to make the place habitable." She brushed a bit of dust and cobweb off her coppery hair. "But it can be done."

The house was at the edge of town. Four rooms: parlor, kitchen, two bedrooms. There was a grassless yard surrounded by a faded picket fence, and an outhouse and a ramshackle shed in the back.

"I'll tell the bank we'll take it." The profits from the saloon were more than enough to afford the mortgage. Indeed, he could probably buy the place outright, although that would leave him with fewer liquid assets than he preferred. "I prefer not to have you living above the saloon any longer than necessary."

Nervously, afraid of the answer she might receive, she asked, "Will you be staying at the saloon?"

Ezra scowled at her. "Maintaining separate residences, Mrs. Standish, sounds rather like locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen."

Marina bit her lip. Ever since Ezra had found out she'd lied to him, he had stopped calling her 'Marina' and had reverted to calling her 'Mrs. Standish.'

After Judge Travis had told Ezra that he would grant neither an annulment nor a divorce, Ezra had gotten so drunk he couldn't tell his left hand from his right. The next morning, she'd lied and claimed he'd consummated the marriage. Thinking he'd already lost his chance for an annulment, he'd decided he might as well derive some benefit from their shotgun marriage and had claimed his husbandly prerogatives. By the time he'd realized he was deflowering a virgin, the marriage was consummated. He hadn't called her by her first name since then. She had tried calling him 'Ezra' twice. He'd rewarded her with a dirty look both times, so she'd gone back to addressing him as 'Mr. Standish'.

"Of course, I'll keep a bachelor pied-a-terre at the saloon," he added.

"Of course, Mr. Standish," she agreed meekly. She had no idea what a pied-a-terre was, but now did not seem like a good time to ask. She warned, "A lot of the furniture is only fit to be chopped into firewood. We'll have to replace at least half of it."

"Order what you need. My credit is good at all the local stores."

"I'll make this into a proper home for you, Mr. Standish," she promised.

"A home?" he repeated disdainfully. "A man's home is supposed to be his castle. This clapboard shanty is not what I had envisioned as my castle. Nor is the liar Rina Henshaw whom I had in mind for my queen."

There were a hundred things she could have said. Reminded him that she hated the nickname Rina and loathed her stepfather's surname (or indeed, anything to do with her stepfather's family). Pointed out that as a professional gambler and semi-retired con artist, many people doubted his veracity. Told him that since Judge Orin Travis had made it very clear that he wouldn't annul their union, there was no reason to keep it a marriage in name only. Reminded him that they'd both consented to the marriage, she to escape the Henshaws and he because he had a gun in his face; he could have refused if he'd believed in 'death before dishonor.' Apologized for lying. But she said nothing. She just watched as he stomped out of the house.

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Marina Standish borrowed an apron from Mary Travis, and a dress so old that Mary assured her it didn't matter if it got ruined. She took cleaning supplies from the saloon's kitchen. And for two days, she swept, mopped, scrubbed, and scoured.

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"I need to speak to you about these bills," Ezra announced. "Were you under the impression that I am made of money?"

Marina decided not to reply that town gossip claimed he was the second richest man in town, after the banker. "I've been as frugal as possible, sir, but we need nearly everything: furniture, blankets, dishes, silverware, kitchen utensils. I wasn't willing to telegram Franklin County and ask the Henshaws to send my hope chest."

Ezra inhaled. He had no more desire to contact her family in Franklin County than she did. Carl and Daniel Henshaw had nearly shot him where he stood just for having his hands on Marina. Under the mistaken belief he'd compromised her, they'd forced him to marry her. And as she had pointed out when he'd asked the judge for an annulment, they were likely to regard that as an insult to the entire Henshaw family - an insult that could only be avenged in blood. His blood. No, telegraphing the Henshaws for personal property Marina had left behind was not an option.

"Very well, madam. Buy what you need."

"It won't be as bad as you think, Mr. Standish. We've already started getting a few wedding presents," she informed him.

"We have?"

"Household goods, mostly, but everything we get is something we don't need to buy." She tallied the gifts off on her fingers. "Bathtub from Mr. Jackson, pots and pans from Mr. Larabee, mixing bowls from Mrs. Travis, canning supplies from Mrs. Pettit "

"Mrs. Pettit?" The sour old biddy didn't even like him.

"Dont worry, I'll take care of the thank you notes," Marina told him. "As soon as I buy some stationery."

With a sigh, he opened his wallet and handed her some cash. "Try not to impoverish me, will you?"

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"Gentlemen, may I interest you in a friendly game of cards?" Ezra asked.

"Sorry, Ezra, I'm all tapped out," replied Nathan Jackson. The ex-slave was the town healer, the closest thing Four Corners had to a doctor, but business had been slow lately.

"Me, too," agreed Josiah Sanchez. The ex-preacher was a tall man with pale blue eyes, as homely as Ezra was handsome. His face, though plain, was one that small children and dogs trusted instinctively.

"Oh, just a friendly game, not for money."

Nathan and Josiah traded suspicious glances.

"Since when are you interested in playing for matchsticks?" asked Nathan.

"Not matchsticks," Ezra said.

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"Good morning, Mrs. Standish."

"Good morning." She looked at Nathan and Josiah, standing there on the front porch, buckets in their hands. "What may I do for you?"

Nathan lifted the pails for her to see. "Came to whitewash the house."

"I thought Ez- Mr. Standish was going to do that."

Josiah grinned ruefully. "We played cards with Ezra, and lost."

She frowned. "I'm going to have to have a word with that man."

"Ma'am, you'd have an easier time getting a skunk to squirt perfume than you would have getting Ezra to do something straightforward if there's a twisted way to arrange things," Josiah told her.

"So I'm beginning to notice. I don't suppose you've got enough there for the fence, too?"

"Not sure. We'll see if any's left when we're done with the house," Nathan promised.

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"You've been working two hours or more. Would you like to come inside and sit for a few minutes? Maybe have a glass of lemonade?"

"That'd be right kind of you, Miz Standish," Nathan replied.

She poured lemonade into three mismatched glasses. They sat and sipped for a few minutes, chatting amiably.

"If Ezra had just asked, I'd have been happy to help him out. He didn't need to beat us at cards to get us to whitewash the house," Nathan said.

Josiah shook his head. "Ezra's mind is like a ledger. If he asked us for help, then he'd owe us a favor. And you know he don't like being beholden to nobody."

Marina nodded, absorbing the information about her husband for future reference.

Josiah drained his cup. "Not to speak ill of your husband, but Ezra ain't much of a handyman. Is there anything else we can do for you after we finish the whitewashing?"

"I don't suppose either one of you knows how to put up bookshelves?"

"Bookshelves?" Nathan repeated. "Did Ezra marry himself a bluestocking?"

"Not for me," she denied, although she'd always loved reading, whenever she could spare the time from her chores for Gram Henshaw. "For Ezra. It just goes to figure that a man who talks like that must have a fair amount of education. He'll want books in the house."

"Ezra's borrowed books from me once or twice," Josiah acknowledged, "and I know enough carpentry to put up shelves. Be happy to tend to that for you, ma'am."

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"Are you ready to stop for lunch?"

"Yes, ma'am, we sure are," Nathan replied.

"Do not bind the mouths of the kine that tread the grain," Josiah quoted.

Nathan and Josiah had started on their second helping of ham sandwiches and blueberry muffins when Ezra walked in the door. "You look like you've made an excellent start, gentlemen. As for you, madam, what are you doing entertaining gentlemen callers when your husband is away from the house?"

"A fine wife I'd be if I let my husband's friends go hungry - especially when they're doing the work he promised to do." She got up and made some more sandwiches for Ezra. She set them and a glass of lemonade before him.

"I said I'd take responsibility for getting the house whitewashed. I never said I'd do it myself," Ezra parried.

"And I never said I wouldn't burn your dinner," Marina muttered.

Nathan chuckled.

"Do you remember a discussion we had the day after we married? A discussion about sticks?" he asked pointedly.

"Yes, Mr. Standish." She knew he wouldn't really take a stick to her. At least, she didn't think he would. She also knew not to push him too far. "Would you like a blueberry muffin?"

Thank you." He was pleasantly surprised when he bit into it: light, fluffy, tasty, and generously laden with berries. "Adequate."

"Adequate? These muffins could win a prize at any county fair, and you know it," Josiah protested.

"Adequate," Ezra repeated, but Marina saw the twinkle in his jade-green eyes.