Author: LaraMee Deux
Ezra Standish scrubbed angrily at his watering eyes and daubed at his sore, red nose. He felt horrible, plain and simple. The gambler could plainly see the face of the snuffling business man he had played cards with two days earlier. The man had insisted that he was only unused to the dusty environment, but that seemed doubtful now.
Standish could only hope that the ailing man passed through on his way back to wherever he had come from. He would enjoy relieving the snuffling little "plague carrier" of the rest of his cash.
He heard a noise outside and leaned forward in his rocking chair to look out the window. The stage was just pulling in, bringing more visitors to the little town. He toyed with the idea of venturing forth to ascertain the disposition of the passengers, but decided that he would leave any likely marks united with their discretionary funds this time. The thought of unwrapping himself from the heavy quilt and dressing for an evening at the tables was more effort than he cared to expend at the moment. Nathan had assured him that it was only a head cold, but he had his doubts.
To make things even worse was the fact that it was Christmas Eve.
The town was abuzz with merry-makers and revelers who were all but dancing in the street. It made the fact that he was marooned all alone in his rented room even more difficult too contend with. Although he had pretended disinterest, the young Southerner had actually been looking forward to the festivities. That had all been pulled beyond his reach when he had wakened to find that he felt as if his 'down pilla's' stuffing had insinuated itself inside his head, while the inside of his mouth felt very much like the muslin sheets that his aching body rested on. Making a half-hearted effort at his morning ablutions, he had shuffled tiredly outside in search of Nathan and his healing herbs.
Returning with poultices to help him breathe, and a mixture to brew into tea, he bemoaned his fate to the empty room and returned to his bed. A few hours later he was roused from a light sleep by Nathan. The healer brought more herbs and a tray of food, ordering Ezra to eat.
After a quick examination, Jackson informed him that he should be fine In a few days. "I'll let Chris know that you're under the weather. See If someone can take your watch for a day or two. It's just a cold right now, but I sure don't wanna see it develop into pneumonia. Now, you stay put and rest. I'm gonna see if Inez'll see to your meals, and I want you to drink as much water as you can. It'll help."
With that Nathan had left, and Standish found himself alone once more. He sighed, curling up under the quilt. Why should it be any different now? He had always been alone…and was certain at that moment that he always would be.
"Good lord, Ezra," he mumbled to himself, "the next thing I suppose,
is that you'll begin spewing forth such things as "bah humbug" and the
like. You have a cold. Go to sleep…perhaps your mood will be improved when you awaken." He rose from the rocking chair and returned to his featherbed.
Drifting toward the comfort of sleep, he snuggled deeper beneath the
heavy quilt, till only the top of his head was uncovered. Visions of
wealth, companionship, love and comfort melded into a delirious fantasy in the man's sleeping mind. It took some time for him to rouse from his dreams when the sound of someone knocking on his door beckoned him back to cold reality. Thinking that it was the healer he grumbled, "Mister Jackson it is quite impossible for me to secure the rest you suggested when you insist on disturbing me so frequently." Just as his complaints finished, he opened the door.
"Ezra, what on earth are you doing up here in this dreary little room?"
Maude Standish asked with her usual flair for the dramatic. "There are
gentlemen out there with more money than they truly need…" she broke off, finally registering the fact that her son looked in less than perfect health. "Why darlin', whatever is wrong with you?"
"Nothing Mother," he said shortly. "Mister Jackson assures me that it is only a head cold."
"Well, what on earth are you doin' out of bed baby boy?" She fussed at him.
Attempting to ignore the fact that she was responsible for his being Out of bed, the young man simply shuffled back to bed and crawled back under the covers. "What brings you here Mother?"
"Well, I was in this vicinity, and thought it would be nice to spend the holidays with my darlin' son and his associates."
Ezra looked at her with surprise. He wasn't certain exactly why,
Whether it was the fact that she had come to visit him at this time, or the fact that she only did so because she was 'in the vicinity'. But then he decided that, for whatever reason, he liked the idea of his mother being near right now.
"I'm sorry," he realized that she had been speaking to him. "What did you say?"
"I asked what Mister Jackson had prescribed for you to overcome this malady."
"Some of his herbs…liquids…rest...There isn't much one can do for a cold."
"Well then darlin' boy, you rest." She fussed and tugged at the covers, tucking them around Standish's shoulders. "I'll go and get Inez to heat some water and we'll make some tea."
Ezra watched as the whirlwind in petticoats that had taken over his room left once more with a flourish. With a smile he wondered to himself what she wanted. He knew Maude Standish just as well as she knew him…if not better. There had to be some reason behind her visit, and there had to be some reason behind her fluttering like a mother hen around him. He decided to let her play her game, however, let her reveal her motives as she went. Chuckling to himself, he allowed the warmth of his featherbed to cradle him. He thought back briefly on past Christmases, but found no comfort there and quickly set the thoughts aside. Sighing, he thought of the current holiday and wondered what memories it would leave behind in its passing.
A short time later, Maude reappeared, deftly carrying a tray as she pushed open the door. Setting the tray on the dresser, she found the herbs Nathan had sent with her son and prepared them in the hot water.
While it steeped, she flitted around the room, gossiping about one
Thing after another. Ezra listened to her, only half hearing the words. It was enough that she was there. Someone was with him, and it made the day seem a bit brighter. He was enjoying the meaningless chatter that filled the room, and that thought surprised him more than he would have believed.
"Here you go, baby boy," Maude interrupted his reverie. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she held out a mug to him.
Pushing himself up against the headboard, the gambler took the hot Drink and sipped it cautiously. Making a face that caused his mother to smile, he said "it is no wonder Mister Jackson Senior declared this 'boiled skunk'. In all actuality I believe that to have been an overly kind assessment."
"Well, if it puts you back on the road to recovery my dear, you drink it all up. I brought you some soup as well. Inez promises that it's the best thing for a cold. Now, is there anything else I can do for you sweetheart?"
"Uh…no Mother, thank you." He paused, debating whether or not to continue. Finally he said, "Mother, are you aware that there is a celebration going on in town this evening?"
"Hmmm? Why yes darlin', Inez did say something about that. You aren't considering going there, are you? I don't think that you need to be out and about tonight baby boy."
He smiled. "No, I have no intention of vacating this bed for anything but the most primary of reasons. I only thought that perhaps you would like to partake of the festivities."
"And leave you alone? I wouldn't think of it darlin'! Now, are you ready for your soup?"
Ezra felt hot tears burn his eyes. It was a simple thing, but it meant more than he could ever put into words. His mother really did care; below the brash and self-focused woman he had come to know, she really did care about her one and only child.
Maude sat the tray on his lap, and returned to her seat on the edge of his bed. She tucked a cloth napkin under his chin and stirred the soup, blowing on it gently. She didn't move from the bed, regaling him with more stories. He had no idea which stories were true and which ones she had fabricated. Not that it mattered; none of them involved anyone he knew. He allowed her to ramble on, her words washing over him like a soothing blanket. Once he finished eating, she removed the tray. Going to his washstand she came back with a damp rag and bent over, washing his face.
"Mother!" He yelped, "that's unnecessary, truly. I am not an invalid."
"Well, I know that," she said as she took one of his hands in hers and stroked the rag over it. "But there's nothing that says I can't fuss over my baby boy for a little bit."
Feeling a bit overwhelmed, the young man could only smile weakly and settle back against his pillows. When she finished, Maude coaxed him back down in the bed and snugged the quilt around him once more.
Moving from the bed, she said "now you sleep for awhile. I'll take the tray away and be back in as soon as I get my luggage taken care of."
Kissing him on the forehead she once more swept from the room.
Ezra dozed of and on through the rest of the day and into the evening.
His mother bustled about, making him drink more tea, coaxing him to eat soup, fluffing his pillows and straightening his coverings. He slowly began to simply enjoy her ministrations. Questions continued to tug at the corners of his mind, but he kept them at bay. For once he would take his mother's actions at face value.
The sounds of carols, laughter and general merriment came to them from time to time as the evening wore on. The young man sighed once or twice, wondering just what was happening. He could almost picture it in his mind; J.D. and Buck continuing to argue over young Dunne's choice of a gift for Casey Wells, Josiah quoting scripture or regaling the youngest members of the town with Christmas tales, and Nathan hovering quietly at the edges of the crowd. He knew that it was unlikely Chris had returned from his shack and Vin had probably volunteered to take the watch so the others could enjoy the festivities. He could well imagine Mary Travis overseeing everything, like a queen at court. The rest would be dancing, eating, singing and laughing.
A part of him was saddened to think that he would miss this chance to relax and enjoy the strange sensation of being a part of the town. But that sadness was far overshadowed by the more compelling sensation of being cared for by his mother.
Midnight came and went, the sounds of merry-making dissipating with the night. Maude had settled into his rocking chair, reading a book and chatting with him. She continued to monitor his health, forcing liquids on him until he felt ready float away on a sea of foul-tasting tea.
As the night waned, moving toward the early morning hours, Maude Standish allowed a single yawn to announce her need for sleep. "Well darlin', I believe I shall retire to my own room. Unless of course you need something?"
He smiled. "No Mother, I'm fine."
"Well then," she stepped over and delivered another kiss to his forehead. "I'll check in on you tomorrow morning. Good night baby boy." She gently stroked his face and smiled before leaving the room.
Christmas morning dawned with a brightness that seemed to match the gambler's mood. He rose before noon, and was soon looking his usual dapper self. Just as he finished tying his tie, a knock came at his door.
"Come in," he said cheerfully.
Maude peeked around the door. "Ezra, darlin', are you certain you should be up?"
"Mother, I'm fine," he came to stand before her, his green eyes twinkling. "Due very much to your wonderful attention. Thank you Mother." He kissed her tenderly on the cheek. Uncharacteristically blushing, the older woman simply smiled. He offered her his arm, and they went to join the others for Christmas breakfast.