A Free Man
Magnificent Seven OW (Mrs. Standish AU)
Standard Fanfic Disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: These aren't my characters (except for Rina Henshaw Standish). I'm just borrowing them for, um, er, typing practice. Yeah, that's it. Typing practice. They will be returned, most of them relatively unharmed, or at least suitably bandaged, to their original owners upon request. If the original owners do not request them back, I will be happy to take them off their hands. Originally published in the fanzine Let's Ride #11, published by Neon RainBow Press. WARNING: deathfic. Get out the Kleenix.
A Free Man
by Susan M. M.
Chapter 8 of the Mrs. Standish AU
September 13, 1878
Gun in hand, Ezra Standish looked around his empty house. It was deserted. The furniture was dusty. There was no sign of his wife.
September 12, 1878
"If you'd told me when my Nathan was a boy," Obadiah Jackson coughed, "that a white lady'd be nursing me, I'd laughed in your face. 'Specially a lady like Mistuh Ezra's wife."
"Fiddlesticks," declared Marina Standish, pretending not to notice the bloodstains on the handkerchief he'd coughed up. "Your son is one of Chris Larabee's riders; my husband is one of Chris Larabee's riders. That must make us some sort of kin. And kinfolk take care of each other."
The ex-slave just smiled at her.
"Would you like me to read to you?" Marina reached for the Bible.
"No, ma'am. But I sure would like you to do some writing for me, if you could," Obadiah asked. He was a tall man, made gaunt by his disease. Years of hard work on cotton plantations and his consumption had made him old before his time, his black hair liberally touched with white.
"Of course,"the redhead agreed.
"I want to send letters to Nathan's sisters. I'm not going to see 'em again, not on this side of the River Jordan."
Marina wanted to contradict him, but she knew it would be a lie. She found paper and ink, and sat beside the bed to write his farewells to his daughters.
"This one's to Dinah. She's in Alabama, sharecropping on what used to be our owner's plantation. Belongs to a Connecticut carpetbagger now." Obadiah coughed up more blood. Marina held a glass of water to his lips. "Thank you, ma'am, thank you kindly. My beloved daughter," he coughed again. "I'll be with your mama by the time you get this. I don't want you to grieve for me. I'm dying a free man. I seen my girls grow into fine women, wives and mothers that their mama would be proud of, and I seen my boy a fine man, respected by his town. My only regret is that I ain't seen him married yet and raising young'uns of his own. He's got a girl, but he's slow about courting, and I won't live to see the wedding."
Marina surreptitiously wiped her eyes, and dipped the quill into the inkwell.
"You tell Reuben and Deborah and Joshua and Zeke and," he coughed again. "I'm forgetting one. And, and Peleg - that's it, Peleg - their old grampa loves them. And you tell your husband to pack up everything you own, and leave Alabama. Come out here to join your brother. It's hotter than the Devil's backyard here, but it's free. Sharecropping ain't but one step from bondage. Come where your sons can grow up to be men. Remember that I love you. The Lord bless you always." Obadiah coughed again, worn out by so much talking.
Marina poured some of the bitter herbal potion Nathan had left to soothe his father's throat. "Here, take this."
"Don't want that. Tastes like - " He interrupted himself, not willing to say it tasted like horse-piss in front of a lady.
"Drink it," she ordered firmly. "It'll help."
"Ain't nothing gonna help now," he told her. Nonetheless, he obeyed her, wanting the strength to finish this final chore.
"T'other letter's for Jochie."
"Jochie?" Marina had never heard the name before, and wasn't sure how to spell it.
"Short for Jochebed. Moses' mother."
Marina nodded. Although Obadiah couldn't read or write so much as his own name, he knew the scriptures nearly as well as Josiah.
"Ain't heard from her in three years. You'll need to send it care of the Freedman's Bureau in New York City. That's where her man went to get a job. Maybe they can find her, pass the letter on."
Marina didn't have the heart to tell him that the Freedman's Bureau had been disbanded four years ago. She'd send it to an African Methodist Episcopal Church, and pray someone could forward it on to her.
"Tell her - tell her what I told Dinah. 'Cept her children are Rose, Lily, and Violet. Maybe she's got a boy by now." He smiled at the thought of the grandchildren he hadn't seen in years, and would never see again. "I ain't sure if any of the letters I sent before reached her, so can you tell her about me finding Nathan, and avenging her mama?"
Obadiah closed his eyes. "Feeling right tired. Maybe I'll rest a little, just until Nathan gets back. Gotta wait for Nathan..."
There was a gentle tap at the door. Josiah Sanchez peeked inside. Marina put a finger to her lips, and joined him outside.
"Is he ...?"
Marina shook her head. "Just sleeping. But I hope Nathan gets back soon. That's all he's holding on for, is the chance to say goodbye to Nathan."
"Chris and the others should be back today," Josiah told her.
"You said that yesterday," she reminded him.
"You look nearly as bad as he does," Josiah said with more honesty than tact. "You've worn yourself out nursing him. Go home and get some rest. I'll sit with him."
Marina nodded. Josiah was her favorite "brother-in-law" and could be counted on to speak the truth without mincing words. "There's some beef broth simmering. If - when he wakes up, try to get him to take some."
September 13, 1878
Chris Larabee, Ezra Standish, Vin Tanner, and Nathan Jackson rode into town. They had three prisoners in tow, and a fourth man's body tied to his horse.
"Let's get these varmints to the jail," Larabee said. "Vin, you deliver him to the undertaker."
Vin nodded. Kneeing his horse forward, he led the dead man's steed.
JD Dunne, the town's young sheriff, met them on the sidewalk in front of the jail. "Thank Heaven you're here."
"What's wrong?" Larabee asked. He'd left Buck, Josiah, and JD behind to guard the town in case of trouble.
"It's your father, Nathan. He's taken a turn for the worse."
Without a word, the Negro healer spurred his horse and hurried home.
After helping Chris and JD secure the prisoners, Ezra returned his horse to the livery stable and walked to his own home. The house was strangely quiet. "Marina?" There was no answer.
Something was missing. It took Ezra a moment to realize that there was no scent of biscuits baking, of chicken frying, or soup boiling. Marina's culinary exploits were an olfactory delight, yet the house was odorless. Not even faint, faded smells, as though she hadn't been in her kitchen since he left. He ran a finger along the table. It came up dusty. Marina was an immaculate housekeeper; she never permitted dust to settle - which in this climate, meant waging a constant war against it. So industrious in her housework was she, so eternal in her efforts, that they'd been married over a month before Ezra had learned that she didn't enjoy cleaning.
" 'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed."
When Nathan heard Marina and Josiah singing the hymn, he feared the worse. He threw open the door and rushed in.
A faint smile lit Obadiah's face at the sight of his youngest child, his only son. "Nathan. I was 'fraid you wouldn't get here in time."
"I'm here, Daddy." Nathan knelt beside the bed and clasped his father's hand.
"He's been waiting for you, Nathan." Josiah caught Marina's eye. The two of them slipped out, leaving father and son to make their final farewells in privacy.
The door opened. Ezra whirled, gun in hand, and found himself aiming at his wife. Somewhat abashed, he holstered his pistol.
"Ezra." A smile brightened up her tired, wan face at the sight of him.
"Are you all right?" he asked. She didn't look all right.
"I'm fine. Just tired," she told him.
"The baby?" he asked cautiously, almost afraid of the answer. She didn't look tired; she looked like death warmed over.
A hand went to her still flat stomach. "Nothing's wrong with our baby," she assured him. "He kicked a few times while you were gone."
"Where's my lunch?" he demanded. "And where have you been?"
"Your lunch is at the restaurant, waiting for you to buy it for both of us," she retorted. "I've been tending Obadiah Jackson on his deathbed, and I am purely exhausted, so you're buying us lunch."
He raised an eyebrow at her giving orders to him. "He passed on?"
Marina shook her head. "Not yet, but I doubt he'll last out the day." She looked up at him. "I'm glad you're home. Come buy me lunch, and tell me all about your adventures. I've missed you these past few days."
"And I you." He was surprised to realize he was telling the truth.
September 15, 1878
Hat in hand, the former Lt. Ezra Standish of the Confederate army, stood on Boot Hill for the funeral of a former slave, his head bowed respectfully as Josiah finished the prayer.
"Obadiah's favorite hymn was 'Amazing Grace.' Would you join me in singing it to him one last time?" Josiah requested.
Six men better known for fighting and shooting sang the hymn, accompanied by several townspeople who'd come to pay their last respects to their healer's father. When they were done singing, Josiah nodded at Nathan. The ex-slave took the first handful of dirt and tossed it into the grave on top of the coffin. One by one, his six colleagues followed suit.
Marina waited a bit to make sure Josiah was done, then announced, "If anyone's hungry, we're having a small funeral luncheon at our house: nothing fancy, but you're welcome to come for a bite."
Ezra raised a dark eyebrow. He whispered, "When were you planning on informing me of my hospitality, ma'am?"
"I just did." Her hazel eyes twinkled mischievously.
"All right," Buck Wilmington declared with more enthusiasm than was seemly at a funeral. "If Marina says 'small' and 'nothing fancy', she means she's only been cooking two or three hours instead of the usual five or six."
Dear Mrs. Crow, September 20, 1878
Your father dictated this letter to me the day before he died. I hope it may give you some comfort to know that your brother was at his side when he passed on. I am enclosing a copy of his obituary from the Clarion, our local newspaper. May God sustain you in your loss.
Mrs. Ezra (Marina) Standish
Obadiah Jackson, father of healer Nathan Jackson, died Friday, September 13, and was buried Sunday. He was born a slave in Georgia, but died a free man. Citizens of Four Corners will remember his trial, when he was convicted of murdering the man responsible for his wife's death nineteen years earlier. Because he was dying of consumption, the death sentence was postponed indefinitely, to permit a Higher Judge to claim his life. At the time, he was not expected to live more than a few months. However, thanks to his son's skilled and loving care and the Arizona climate, Obadiah Jackson survived his consumption for nearly a year. His loss is mourned by three children: Nathan Jackson, Dinah Bingham, and Jochabel Crow, and several grandchildren. May God have mercy on his soul.